By Christine Sampson
Parents at Monday’s Sag Harbor School Board meeting rejected a slate of school bus options developed by Sag Harbor Elementary School principal Matt Malone and Pierson Middle-High School principal Jeff Nichols administrators that could enable a later start time for Pierson.
Earlier this year, the school board announced a goal of looking towards an 8 a.m. start time for Pierson. On Monday, Mr. Malone and Mr. Nichols said if Pierson’s start time was changed to 8 a.m. while the timing at elementary school was not altered, the morning bus run could be accomplished with the current bus fleet but the afternoon run would either require five additional buses, or a contract with a private company to provide additional bus service. Also, because the two schools’ dismissal times would be closer together, parking and traffic difficulties may arise in the village, they added.
Another option would combine the afternoon bus runs for all grades. Pierson students would board buses first, and the elementary students would board next. Only two or three extra buses would be required for the afternoon bus run in that instance, but the district would have to reevaluate its “flagpole rule” – which refers to the one-mile distance cutoff that determines which students get access to bus service.
It was this component that ignited parent opposition. Marion Tanner, whose children are 16, 11 and 9 years old, and who teaches in the Southampton School District, asked the board to take the combined busing option “right off the table.”
“Probably the scariest stories that happen during the day happen on the bus. The most bullying happens on the bus, the most inappropriate language happens on the bus, the most inappropriate actions happen on the bus,” she said. “We’re sitting here talking about what would be great for our high school kids because this is what pediatrics recommends, but we’re actually entertaining the idea of putting kindergarteners through twelfth graders on the bus. I feel like it’s a total conflict.”
Scott Rascelles, a retired police officer with two children in the schools, said he is “adamantly opposed” to combining the bus runs.
“These kindergarteners are children, they’re babies. You can’t put them on a bus with a 17-year-old,” Mr. Rascelles said. “We had an issue weeks ago when my sixth grader came home and – I won’t say it – but was dropping a word I was shocked with. … If my third grader comes home and says that word, I’m going to have a real big problem. What goes on with these buses is unbelievable.”
A third option presented by the two principals, switching the start times of the elementary and middle-high schools, would only require one more bus and driver. The biggest challenge here, they noted, would be a major shift for the elementary school students, who would find themselves standing at their bus stops in the dark during the winter. Younger students would likely arrive home before older siblings.
The last option was a 15-minute-later shift for Pierson, meaning students would start their day at 7:50 a.m. The bus runs could be completed with the current fleet and team of drivers, but “tighter bus schedules” would then result for sports, special education and private school bus runs. A small time adjustment to the elementary school day would also be required.
In all options, Mr. Malone and Mr. Nichols noted “sports buses continue to be challenged to arrive on time to shared sports,” and said bus parking would be an issue for all options that called for extra buses to be acquired.
Don O’Brien, a parent who teaches in the Westhampton Beach School District, said he still opposed a later Pierson start time based on a potential negative impact on sports, and added what he called “some of my own research.”
“Students getting more sleep equals student success. That is actually a fact. Later start times do not equal kids doing better,” he said. “I asked 100 kids in my school what would happen if we started school later, and 100 kids said, ‘I would stay up later.’ If the kids stay up later, and we start school later, what happens? Nothing.”
The school board briefly debated the transportation options, but notably absent from the meeting was board member Susan Lamontagne, who strongly supports a later start time for Pierson. The discussion will be picked up again at a future meeting.