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High schoolers, community members speak out against school start times in board plan

Harum Helmy

The Columbia School District's Board of Education is reconsidering the school start times included in its controversial three-tier transportation plan. At last night’s board meeting,district parents, students and employees spoke loud and clear: The current proposed start times simply don’t work.

Hickman High junior Eli Byerly-Duke is involved in at least nine clubs at school. He says he already comes in early and stays late. Under the board’s proposed times, he’d have to start classes by 7:20 next school year. And that, Byerly-Duke says, just can’t happen: “Quite frankly, the thought of taking Calculus 3 at 7:20 in the morning makes me want to throw up," he says. "I just don’t think it would go very well. And if that comes from me, who’s dedicated, I mean, I have friends who just wouldn’t show up.”

Byerly-Duke was one of a handful of high-schoolers and Columbia who showed up to criticize the board’s proposed start times. Many who spoke last night say the early high school start time would affect fine arts activities such as marching band, which rehearses before school starts. Elementary school administrators say young students learn better earlier in the morning, but under the proposed time, elementary schools would start at 9:10 am. School board vice president Christine King also heads its transportation committee. After those public comments, King says the board is asking district staff for two new proposals for the three-tier plan, with high schools starting at the second tier.

But King says she’s wary of over-tweaking details: "We have to be careful that we don’t get into the habit of tweaking everything to death, because as soon as you start tweaking some of this, everything else is affected. And we found that with the boundary lines, if we said, 'Let’s tweak this…' it has a domino effect.”

King says once the board has chosen a proposal, the members will have to keep in mind they can’t make everyone in the district happy. The board will likely vote on a plan in February.

Harum Helmy started as KBIA's Health and Wealth reporter in January 2013. She has previously worked at the station as a news assistant, helping assign and edit stories by student reporters. Harum grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia and graduated from MU with degrees in journalism and anthropology in 2011. She's trying to finish up an MA in journalism.
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