High school students in the Gilbert Unified School District will have to come to school earlier this school year, a move that has upset some parents who say it's just too early for their teens.
Marcy Olsen, who has a senior and a sophomore at Highland High School, said a 6:30 a.m. start time for "A" hour is "ridiculous."
The A hour, sometimes called "zero hour" in other districts, is an optional early morning class before the regular school day begins. Olsen said both of her kids need the extra hour because they take Mormon seminary and other electives through the day.
"We want (district officials) to know that we just don't think this is acceptable," Olsen said. "Starting school at 6:30 means leaving home at 6:10. For kids who have extracurricular activities and jobs, it's just too much."
The Gilbert district is adding 25 minutes more per day of instructional time starting this school year to comply with state officials' new interpretation of the instructional time law. The Chandler Unified School District is also changing high school start times.
This means that starting Aug. 6, Gilbert's first day of school, the high school first hour begins at 7:30 a.m. Seventh hour ends at 2:30 p.m. Those times are about 20 to 25 minutes earlier than last year, depending on the school. But this year's schedule has all high schools starting at the same time.
If the district doesn't increase instructional time to meet the law's requirements, it could lose thousands of dollars from the state because a student who is not considered full time does not get full funding.
The changes are mainly due to seniors who leave early and do not take at least four hours of classes.
Superintendent Dave Allison said he can "well appreciate" parents' concerns, but the district can't stand to lose any funding.
"It would hurt our district," Allison said.
Allison said 214 seniors at Gilbert High School and 194 seniors at Mesquite High School are not taking a full course load this year.
Gilbert spokeswoman Dianne Bowers said the district has received a number of e-mails and phone calls about the new schedule.
However, the schedule is set for the school year, she said.
"The district did consider a number of alternatives, and we believe that we've chosen the course of action that's in the best interest of all our students," Bowers said.
"Regardless of which high school you attend, or what level of classes you're taking, all students will have 55 minutes in class, and a five-minute passing time between classes."
Janel Durfee, who also has two children at Highland High, said she's upset the changes were made without any parent input. Her kids also have to take the A-hour class to get all their credits, she said.
"The teenagers are having a hard enough time getting enough sleep as it is," said Durfee, who sent out an e-mail asking parents to contact the district. "I want a different solution. I don't think it's healthy for the kids, and it's hard on families."
According to state statute, students need to have 720 hours, four subjects and 20 hours per week of instruction, Bowers said.
The additional minutes couldn't be added at the end of the day because of transportation schedules.
Buses take high school students home first, then pick up elementary school students, Bowers said.
The extra class instruction also couldn't just be given to seniors, because many seniors take classes with other grade levels. So the change had to be made to all high school grade levels, Allison said.
"It's a decision none of us wanted to make, but we have to," Allison said. "We just can't lose that funding."
Allison did add that the board and district officials will look at the issue this year and could come up with additional options for the 2009-10 school year.
Barb Dwyer, whose son is a senior at Highland High, said it's not just Gilbert affected by the law. To her, the "complaint is with the state, not with the school."
"It's another attempt from the Legislature to take funding away," said Dwyer, a volunteer with the Gilbert Education Foundation. "Yes, it's last-minute, but they're doing the best they can given the situation. My perspective is you have to look at both sides of it."