Parents Raise Concerns Over Later Start Time at Pierson

The main entrance to Pierson Middle-High School.

By Christine Sampson

The later start time rolled out at Pierson Middle-High School this year has started to impact student athletes, with some parents reporting their children are missing too many classes at the end of the school day as a result.

Administrators moved the start time at Pierson 15 minutes later this year based on scientific studies that showed teens were being deprived of sleep and that waking up very early for school was contributing to depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other problems.

Janice Arbia, who has two daughters who play sports, spoke up during Monday’s school board meeting to say one of them has already missed four or five full ninth-period classes and part of one eighth-period class in addition to academic support. The ninth-period class her other daughter will be missing when she joins the basketball team is Advanced Placement statistics, Ms. Arbia said.

“I’m just wondering, academically, because that comes first, I would like to know what the school’s plan is for students who will be missing this class?” she asked the school board Monday. “I’d like to know who the onus is on for making it up. I feel very strongly, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one in the community. I see it’s not working. I see academic problems for our kids.”

Cheryl Bedini, whose daughter plays on the shared tennis team at East Hampton, said by phone on Wednesday her daughter leaves academic support regularly to get to practices and games, and has even had to leave her ninth period English class on occasion.

“It kind of annoys her,” Ms. Bedini said. “She actually wants to go back to the earlier start time.”

She also has observed her daughter has often not had time to warm up for practices, and has sometimes had to slide right into a match without a warm-up.

“It’s not good,” Ms. Bedini said. “You should be warming up and loosening up and not hurt yourself, but you don’t have that opportunity.”

Teacher Peter Solow, who is also the varsity boys soccer coach at Pierson, said he sees an issue from two points of view: Athletes who are sometimes rushed, disorganized and running late, and students who repeatedly miss the same classes and opportunities to receive extra help during the academic support period.

“When a kid is missing a portion of a class that is every other day it causes a significant disruption,” he said. “You can imagine if you’re only seeing kids two or three times a week, and one of those times the kids are not there for the entire class, it sort of magnifies the impact of them not being there. If you see a kid every day, there’s more of a retention [of material], and more continuity to what is going on.”

Superintendent Katy Graves said Wednesday she will be presenting data on the impact of the later start time to the school board in the near future. “You have to look at the holistic view,” she said.

Board member Susan Lamontagne, who has been an outspoken supporter of later school start times, responded to Ms. Arbia’s comments Wednesday by saying “it’s a legitimate concern.” She suggested the district “do a little more digging with Section XI,” which is the organization that oversees school athletics in Suffolk County.

Noting she was not speaking on behalf of the school board, Ms. Lamontagne said, “I think there is a bigger problem. I appreciate that Janice came and raised the concern and it’s definitely something we have to address. But do I think it means going back to the old time? No. We have to find a way to fix it.”


District Monitoring Access to New Field

Amid rumors circulating in the community that the use of the new natural grass athletic field at Pierson Middle-High School was reserved only for sports games, during Monday’s school board meeting, athletic director Eric Bramoff displayed photos of students using the field that he said were taken during recess.

Ms. Graves said Wednesday access to the field would, at times, be restricted if it was deemed to have been overused, particularly the areas near the soccer goals.

“If we feel like it has sustained any kind of damage, our new maintenance crew leader may section off parts of the field,” she said. “I think our students are very understanding that we need parts of the field to be restricted. The goal is for the field to look as beautiful ten years from now as it does today.”