UCDSB seeking input on bell time changes


It has been over 7 months since the Upper Canada District School Board first announced potential plans to swap its elementary and secondary school bell times, and the “parent consultation” portion of the possible change is finally here. 

In mid April of this year, the UCDSB announced that it was considering having elementary school students start school at 8am (giving an end time of about 2:20pm), while intermediate and secondary students would be switched to a 9-9:30am start with an end time of between 3:10-3:40pm. These bell times are essentially the opposite of the ones currently in place, which have high school students starting more than a full hour before elementary school students. The UCDSB did not consider implementing the change for the 2023-2024 school year, since schedules were already set. 

The proposed change is not “change for change sake”. There is ample evidence from the science and psychology disciplines that elementary-age children function perfectly fine when woken up early, but that high school students need to sleep later to be at their educational and developmental best. Many years ago, elementary bell times used to be earlier and secondary bell times later, before the switch to the current bell times was implemented. 

Are there merits to the current bell times? Many parents are emphatically saying “yes”. One theoretical reason to have earlier start and end times for intermediate and secondary students – particularly in the largely rural area serviced by the UCDSB – is to provide more free afternoon hours for these older youth to work on a family farm. 

There have been other reasons that parents have expressed on social media for wanting the current bell times to stay the same. One stated reason is that part time job opportunities for high school students will be more limited if they have fewer available hours in the afternoon. For those who already have jobs, their change in availability could impact their ability to stay employed. 

Another reason relates to child care arrangements, since some parents rely on their older children and teens to get younger siblings off a bus, walk them home from school, or be waiting for them when they arrive home. This would not be possible with older students finishing later than younger ones. However, this argument works both ways – for parents with earlier work shifts, a bell time swap would allow older children and teens to watch their younger siblings before school. 

Some social media users stated a much simpler reason for opposing the proposed change: An early start to the day prepares teens for the real world, and encourages responsible sleeping habits. 

As is always the case with important topics, there were just as many supporters of the change on social media as there were dissenters. Many parents welcome the possibility of sharper brain function and better school performance in their older children and teens, assuming the science behind the proposal is accurate. 

For some parents, the bell time swap would eliminate the reliance on before school programming, possibly resulting in lower child care costs (unless the price of after school programming was increased to reflect the longer opening hours). 

Regardless of individual opinions, everyone deserves to have their say. Two in-person information sessions are planned later this month, where experts will discuss the links between sleep and learning. Parents are invited and encouraged to attend, though it is not clear the extent to which parents will be able to ask questions or register opinions. The sessions will take place November 27 at 6:30 pm at Smiths Falls District Collegiate Institute, and November 29 at 6:30 pm at Tagwi Secondary School.

For more information, visit https://ow.ly/ymH150Q6wX5.


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