Southampton school board mulls potential start time

Published 9:50 am Friday, February 20, 2015

The Southampton Public School Board has discussed the possibility of starting the school day later next year. Such talk has come under scrutiny from parents within the district in the last few weeks, however, as the board works to put together some sort of questionnaire for the concerned constituents.

Shortly after the January school board meeting, when the matter was first discussed, Superintendent Dr. Alvera J. Parrish told The Tidewater News that only the middle and high schools would delay their start times; however, concerns have arisen that such a move would also include the elementary school.

“[The change] will really mess some parents up,” said Amber Whisenant, parent of two children — one in primary school — in the Southampton system. “Not to mention they already have terrible bus schedules, so that would mean some kids won’t be getting home until 5ish.

“That ain’t right. They’ll have no time to do anything but homework, eat and then bed time,” said Sheila LaVers, another parent of two. “And if they have after-school activities, it will be even later than that!”

Several board members had the chance to dispel this rumor on Monday; however, each offered a contradicting take on the process, thus far.

Florence W. Reynolds, who represents the Berlin/Ivor District, confirmed that changing the start time across the board has been considered.

“It has been discussed, but that’s all I can really say,” she said. “You’ll have to talk to Dr. Parrish because she’s the one heading the process.”

Reynolds also explained that the possible changes have not been talked about in a public manner.

“We haven’t sent out any surveys, and we have not talked to any parents,” she added. “It’s still just in the planning stages at this point. We just want it to be done correctly.”

William Worsham, an at-large board member, was more open about the process.

“There’s been no decision, but we expect it by the spring,” he said. “We’ve got to go through the system, with surveys, public forums and all of that.

“The surveys are forthcoming, and we’re in the process of making them right now. I just can’t tell you a time frame of when they’ll be sent home, though.”

According to Worsham, the survey will ask parents for their thoughts on moving the start time of every level, not just the middle school and high school.

“If that comes into play, it’s something that would change across the school system,” he said.

This challenges what Parrish said previously, and contradicts vice chairman Jim Pope. He had very little to say, and was very straightforward when asked if the board is contemplating including the elementary in such plans.

“No,” he said.

Beyond that, Pope had no comment.

“You can forward your questions to Dr. Parrish,” he said.

The superintendent’s response was that the matter at hand is simply dialogue.

“I don’t know how [the board members] can make those statements when it’s only a discussion at this point,” she said.

Parrish explained that the board is planning to vote on a survey at the March 9 school board meeting, and it — if approved — will be sent to the parents shortly thereafter.

As it stands, all schools within the district begin the day at 8 a.m, and will remain that way through the remainder of the year. The timetable regarding any change is unclear at this point, although Parrish said back in January that the school board is working toward having a decision by the end of the school year.

She would not comment when asked how the board can effectively make such a decision in such a short time, despite the fact that the surveys may not be sent until the second week of March. Meanwhile, the school year ends in June.

Dr. Goodwyn, chairman of the school board, presented insight to the upcoming sequence of events.

“We’ll send surveys, have focus groups and discuss all of the possibilities with the community,” she said. “There’s been no decision, obviously, but we have had conversation and dialogue about everything.

“We are aware that there will be an impact on the students, but we won’t dare make a decision without community input.”

Goodwyn would not deny that the move could affect all schools and grade levels, but she added that no decision has been made either way.