Many concerns from parents after STEO announces school bell times to change come Sept.

Above, Photo taken just before bell time last year at Chesterville public School. Smith photo, Nation Valley News

Kelsey Smith
Nation Valley News

EASTERN ONTARIO — Parents and students are more concerned than ever right now about the many uncertainties around education and returning to school.

Those who are part of the publicly-funded boards have recently also been notified of another imminent change — school bell times. 

 

Student Transportation Eastern Ontario (STEO) announced last week that as part of a three-phase plan, schools within the East and Western sectors of Eastern Ontario will have new bell times as of September 1.

Above, Screenshot of the bell time zone map taken from the STEO website.

Phase one began this past September as northern region schools were the first to implement the bell time change, as addressed in a statement on Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) website. “The process started last year with the North region, and this year bell times will be changing in the East-West region of the UCDSB and the CDSBEO jurisdictions. This is phase two of a three-year plan.”

Above, Screenshot of the new UCDSB bell times taken from the STEO website.

Above, Screenshot of the new CDSBEO bell times taken from the STEO website.

According to STEO’s General Manager and CAO Janet Murray, the change was a financial necessity. 

Within the last couple of years, transportation costs became unsustainable, with costs increasing exponentially within a very short period of time. The STEO Board of Directors were faced with difficult decisions around how to contain unsustainable costs quickly, recognizing that transportation is a key service for families.”

This is a very controversial topic for many parents as they are concerned about their elementary-level children leaving for school after the high-schoolers. Many parents rely on their own teenage children or other teens to care for their younger siblings. 

Katrina Jamieson of Iroquois is an avid volunteer at Iroquois Public School where her youngest attends. As a very apprehensive parent Jamieson has sent a number of letters to STEO in hopes of changing their mind. In her most recent letter she addressed several concerns she has both for her as a parent, the environment and her children.

First of all my youngest child isn’t quite old enough to stay at home alone. So somehow I’m going to have to figure out how to get child care for her which is not necessarily an easy task as I work shift work and my schedule rotates. Second of all, with my work schedule and trying to save money I tend to book hair, eye, and dentist appointments for after school. Now I won’t be able to do that. This will mean I will have to make separate appointments which in turn will cost me more money or result in my youngest child missing school as some of those appointments can’t be scheduled later in the day as they aren’t open.”

Parents like Katrina will now either have to find a neighbour, sitter, or daycare centre who are able to put her younger children on the bus.

Not only will this add more stress but daycare costs as well.

Another mother of three, Felicia Byrd, is very concerned about the extra childcare costs. “As a parent who will be returning to work on the night shift … it is simply unaffordable to send the kids before and after school care on top of my full day daycare for my youngest who isn’t in school. Which means I have to stay up an extra 2-3 hours in the morning after working all night and then cut my sleep short to pick them up at school and daycare.”

Before parents with young children may have only had to worry about after school care but now may face before school care costs as well. 

STEO acknowledges the struggles some parents may face with upcoming changes. 

“STEO and the boards recognize that changes in bell times may require some families to make use of before and after school care services that they did not require in the past. To address these concerns, the boards will be actively working with parents and childcare operators to assess the need for additional supports,” said Murray. 

For other parents whose children attend the same schools they say they won’t really be affected at all.

It’s a five minute difference for us, no big deal from our house,” expressed mom of three, Candice Wratten of South Mountain. 

STEO also stated that the time adjustment will better accommodate such events as sports and field trips that involve multiple schools. 

“In addition, it may be possible to better align interschool athletics programs and sporting events. Field trips that involve multiple schools may also be a possibility.”

With school ending later, high school students themselves may also have issues with after school jobs as many start at 3 or 4 p.m.

Murray clarified that Stormont County, and east to the Quebec border, including Cornwall-area schools, are not on the list. This is because they are part of the third phase and will not be affected until next year.

 

Seen below is the full statement Janet Murray sent to Nation Valley News:

STEO and the boards work collaboratively around bell time changes. Prior to approval, the STEO Board of Directors reviewed the alignment of bell times across the district with the STEO Administrative Committee, which includes representation from both the CDSBEO and UCDSB. The respective Trustees from both Boards that sit on the STEO Board of Directors also brought the information forward to their Boards of Trustees for their input. The respective boards sought input from school principals, as well as the childcare providers in schools. To support smooth implementation, STEO also consulted with neighbouring boards who have implemented universal bell times and with the Ministry of Education. 

Within the last couple of years, transportation costs became unsustainable, with costs increasing exponentially within a very short period of time. The STEO Board of Directors were faced with difficult decisions around how to contain unsustainable costs quickly, recognizing that transportation is a key service for families. STEO and the boards made great efforts to avoid the reduction or elimination of services to families wherever it could be done. Bell time changes allowed for the achievement of some of the needed savings without loss of important services to families. Bell time adjustments allow for the gaining of significant efficiencies, without having to remove transportation. Strategically changing bell times allows for the doubling of routes, where a single vehicle and driver are used to service multiple schools. As a result of bell time changes, in the 2019-2020 school year alone, STEO and the boards eliminated more than 20 buses, without cutting transportation services for students. Additional savings will be achieved in each subsequent year of the bell time change implementation. 

Bell time changes also aligned with the vision of the school boards to implement a standardized learning day and a district wide timetable. The majority of schools within the boards were aligned already with an earlier start for the secondary panel and a later start for elementary. In the 2019-2020 school year, 77% of all secondary schools have an earlier start (before 8:30 a.m.) and 84% of all elementary schools have a later start (after 8:30 a.m.). The district wide bell times fall within the existing parameters for school start and end times. Expanded learning opportunities within the CDSBEO and UCDSB resulting from common bell times could ensure that high school students have a wider range of access to curriculum options offered by the boards regardless of their location. In addition, it may be possible to better align interschool athletics programs and sporting events. Field trips that involve multiple schools may also be a possibility. 

In most areas across the jurisdiction, elementary and secondary students do not ride together, but we do understand that this is not the case for all. STEO and the boards recognize that changes in bell times may require some families to make use of before and after school care services that they did not require in the past. To address these concerns, the boards will be actively working with parents and childcare operators to assess the need for additional supports. 

None of the above is to suggest that transition is without challenge. I do hope however that the information above serves to provide some framework for the decision-making context and path forward. 

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