Huntsville City Schools to push back high school start times

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville City Schools will stagger school start times starting this coming school year.

School board president Elisa Ferrell said the administration decided while elementary and middle school start times will remain at 8 a.m., high schools should begin at 8:30 a.m. this school year.

She said the administration believes this is a safe way to alleviate bus issues. If the start times for buses that do dual-routes is staggered, then they believe this will result in fewer delays. Ferrell said this would help particularly in west Huntsville because of the distance between schools and the amount of ground buses cover on longer routes.

Spokesman Keith Ward said school leaders also believe that this will be safer for teen drivers heading to school because they will not be driving in morning rush hour traffic. He also pointed to studies leaders have viewed that indicate a later start time would lessen tardiness and improve academic performance.

Ferrell said school breakfast will still be served and tutoring can still occur prior to 8:30, and high schools will still be open at the usual, earlier time if parents need to drop students off.

"We will keep the same time for opening the building, which has always been at 7:30," echoed Ward. "That will not change at all."

School officials say some teachers will be in the building at 7:30 a.m. to welcome students, and they will receive stipends if they choose to come in early.

Ward said the high schools' dismissal time will also shift a half-hour because of this change.

The board heard a presentation from district administration at a work session that began at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Delaying high school start times did not require a vote, because the decision was made on the district level.

"Some of the issues we are dealing with are just the fact that schools are far apart," commented Matt Akin in an interview with WHNT News 19. "Others are traffic and things. So we felt strictly from a transportation, busing point of view, this is going to help the efforts we have with Durham at high schools."

He added that his confidence level is high: "We've spent time, we've researched. We've seen it work in other districts so we think it will work," he said.

But Akin said there is some room for change.

"I can see some tweaks," he mentioned.

Pam Hill is the most outspoken board member when it comes to transportation issues. She said it has been awful in her district.

"They [Durham School Services] haven't had enough staff. They've left students waiting," she said.

While she isn't opposed to staggering start times, she isn't sure it will help.

"I think Durham buses are a piece of moldy bread, and we are trying to eat around it," she shared at the meeting.

She later added in an interview, "I don't mean to be pessimistic, I'm just not trusting Durham buses at this time."

Hill is hopeful, and praying she said, for this bus situation.

"I hope it works. I am not against anything that will help our students. My problem is that we are using Durham buses," she explained.

Bus pick-up times will change for high school students as a result of this staggered start. District leaders say they are still reviewing routes with Durham, and will finalize those by July 24. That's when they will be publicized through the district's website.

The district is not considering moving start times for elementary or middle school students in the coming year.

For a school district-assembled FAQ list and more information about the staggered start time, click here.