COLUMBIA - A Rock Bridge High School sophomore said Friday that earlier start times are a problem for Columbia's high schools. The student has looked to social media to get local secondary students to do something about it.
Jilly Dos Santos created a Facebook group called "Students' Say" to fight the 7:20 a.m. high school start time proposed by the transportation committee of Columbia Public Schools under a new three-tier start time plan.
Dos Santos said, "It kind of gets frustrating at school when everyone starts complaining and no one does anything about it."
Dos Santos said high school students have heavier workloads and an earlier start is sleep lost for high school students who balance academics, jobs and extra-curriculars.
Dos Santos said a group of students will accompany and support high school principals who are expected to present a new proposal at the school board meeting on Jan. 14. That proposal is expected to swap the middle school and high school start times, suggesting middle schools start at 7:20 a.m. and high schools start at 8:10 a.m.
Christine King, a member of the Columbia School Board and chair of the transportation committee, said the board welcomes opinions from students. King said a number of students have sent e-mails voicing concern and 600 students responded to a survey regarding the changes.
However, King said it will be impossible to make everyone happy with new start times. King said 40 percent of respondents to the surveys preferred to keep the district's start times the same, but King said the district has learned it would be extremely inefficient to operate the current two-tier bus system when district lines are re-drawn next year.
The transportation committee's three tier proposal was expected to save the district $1 million per year.
"The bottom line is that we only have so much money to operate with. We have to make decisions within those constraints," King said.
King also said the First Student bus company will need to run routing times to determine how long it will take to get students dropped off at schools. Until that analysis is completed, King said the district will not be able to nail down the start times.
King said some may ask why the district did not get this information earlier. King said the process takes time, and transportation decisions are just one set of concerns that need to be addressed before major changes in the district next year.
King said the district will make a decision with all available information in February.
Dos Santos said she will form a student coalition at Rock Bridge that will combine with students from other Columbia high schools that will protest the changes.
Dos Santos said the students will send a request to the school board after Monday's meeting.