JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Transportation issues plagued Duval’s first day back to school and transportation also happens to also be one of the biggest obstacles facing district leaders as they explore ways to pushback middle and high school start times.
A new state law requires the change to be made in time for the start of the 2026 school year.
Figuring out how to bring Duval County Public Schools into compliance with the new law prompted some candid comments during a recent school board workshop.
“I don’t think this should be a state law. If we were ever going to talk about local control, I think this is a local control issue,” Duval School Board member Cindy Pearson (District 3) said.
The new law requires districts to start middle school no earlier than 8 a.m. and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by 2026.
It’s intended to help high school students get more sleep, but the four scenarios that were shown to Duval school board members each presented unintended consequences.
Some schedule options would see elementary students boarding buses as early as 5:30 a.m. and cause some of those students to spend up to 11 hours at school a day.
Other scenarios put high school drivers on the roads in the middle of rush hour traffic.
“This is going to cause quite a stir,” Duval School Board member Darryl Willie (District 4) said.
DCPS Director of Marketing and Public Relations Dr. Tracy Pierce explained because bus drivers each run an elementary, middle and high school route, pushing back high school start times impacts all other grade levels.
“The real complicating logistical factor is to cost of transportation and how you mange that,” Pierce said.
Short of purchasing more buses, which cost a million dollars apiece, the district will be stuck picking the least bad option.
“It’s very complicated in every district. It’s super complicated in Duval. But again, community conversation, we’re going to lay out the options too our parents cause it affects elementary, middle and high school. So, this impacts everyone,” Pierce said.
The district plans to begin surveying parents and other stakeholders with some final start time options in early 2024.
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That would give community members the ability to engage with state lawmakers during the 2024 legislative session and to voice whether they agree with changing school start times before the new schedules would have to be implemented in 2026.