Surveys and meeting on Monday to allow for parents, students and public to weigh in on proposed school times

Harrisonburg City Public School leaders are inviting parents, teachers, students and the public to a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, at Skyline Middle School to discuss potential new start and end times in the city’s schools.

Superintendent Michael Richards announced the public forum at Tuesday night’s school board meeting. He said it will start with recommendations from HCPS’ School Start Times Task Force – led by Sal Romero, chief of staff, and Basil Marin, family engagement specialist – before the meeting is open for public comment.  

The task force presented their recommendation at the January school board meeting, proposing the addition of 30-minutes to the school day district-wide starting in the 2024-2025 academic year. The start time for high school students would be shifted up by 5 minutes. 

The proposed hours would set an earlier start time for elementary school students and a later start time for middle school students, both by roughly 90 minutes. 

Richards said he and school district staff are gathering feedback from parents and guardians of students through surveys sent out this week. The city schools’ faculty and staff also received those surveys.  

“We have a significant response already to that, even though [the survey] has only been active for a little more than 24 hours, Richards said. “There’s lots of interest in this.”

Secondary students in the school district were surveyed as well, in addition to at least one focus group that was conducted with HCPS students. 

Policy Revisions

Changes that the board approved Tuesday night focused on the school board’s decision-making processes and meeting procedures. 

One change, at the suggestion of board chair Andy Kohen, included reordering the board’s responsibilities to make “selecting the superintendent” the board’s first priority. Another policy, which explains the board’s authority to set school regulations will now reflect the Virginia School Board Association’s current policies.

Board member Kaylene Siegel drew attention to an unaltered section of that policy that authorizes the superintendent to make decisions for the school division in the absence of written policy or guidelines from the school board, which they must support until the next meeting. 

“What if the school board disagrees with the decision?” Siegel asked. 

Richards said if he ever takes such action, he will try to consult with each school board member before making any decisions. 

“It’s an interesting dilemma because there definitely could be a situation where I do have to make a decision on something that hasn’t been put into policy yet,” Richards said. “But I promise you, and you know me well enough, so that I will have conversations with you individually so you understand what I’m doing and why.”

Further policy changes clarified the school board’s community engagement efforts to notify the public about upcoming meetings in a timely manner, as well as behavioral expectations for community members who attend the meetings.

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