The Pembina Trails School Division is pushing back new bell times in a bid to address concerns about coming changes upending family routines and shrinking the amount of sleep their children get throughout the week.

Two months ago, administrators revealed plans to update start and end times in about half of the Winnipeg division’s 34 schools to maximize fleet efficiency and allow buses to service two routes.

The 2023-24 timetable adjustments — in some cases by as much as 45 minutes — sparked outrage among parents who have planned their lives around school schedules.

Leaders have faced criticism for failing to consult families, only giving community members eight months to reorganize routines, and making bell times so early they threaten to affect sleeping patterns and, in turn, risk negatively affecting student health and academic success.

In response, trustees voted unanimously to tweak the initial schedules.

“We’ve met you in the middle, as best we could,” Cindy Nachtigall, vice-chairwoman of the board, told parent attendees during a public meeting last week.

The 18 affected schools, all of which are located in the southwest of the city, are split in two groups. The early group was originally slated to operate between 8:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m., starting in September; the later group was to run from 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Their respective hours for next year will now be 8:25 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 9:20 a.m. to 3:55 p.m.

Roughly 7,000 students will be impacted across Arthur A. Leach, Bonnycastle, Acadia, Linden Meadows, St. Avila, Bairdmore, Chancellor, Crane, Dalhousie, Viscount Alexander, Bison Run, Henry G. Izatt, Whyte Ridge, Van Walleghem, Prairie Sunrise, Ralph Maybank, Oakenwald, and General Byng schools.

“The good news and bad news, at the same time, is we are growing at a rate of 700 students a year, approximately, and it is not stopping anytime soon. That’s a good problem to have – it says something about our education system in Pembina Trails… It also creates major challenges,” Nachtigall said March 23.

Superintendent Lisa Boles has repeatedly indicated double-routing is the only viable solution to alleviate transportation challenges related to growing enrolment — and thus, an increasing number of students eligible for bussing — and a driver shortage that is not unique to Pembina Trails.

Tara Liu called the board of trustees’ ultimate decision “disappointing.”

Liu and other organizers behind the newly-formed Pembina Trails Parents advocacy group had been calling on officials to scrap their plans and find an alternative solution to address bussing constraints.

“The lack of planning and foresight (with regards to the Waverley West neighbourhood) is now upending the lives of thousands,” said Liu, who helped mobilize parents to oppose the disruptions via letters, presentations and an online petition.

Among parent concerns are work hours conflicting with updated school times and the high price tag of securing a daycare spot, if any are available in their neighbourhood.

The director of the Linden Meadows School-based child care centre said she has been fielding countless calls since the division made its bell time announcement, so the facility’s lengthy wait list has only gotten longer.

“I would love to help our families, if I had the staff,” said Felicia Audino-Devanik, adding she is frustrated daycare operators were not actively involved in drawing up changes to school start and end times.

During their latest meeting March 23, trustees indicated they would look into expanding child care options.

While many parents remain panicked about the looming changes, Jesse Peters said he is pleasantly surprised trustees actually listened to constituents and made even the smallest of tweaks.

“I would consider this to be a win,” the local parent said. “(This shows) there is hope and optimism when it comes to governing bodies in our education system.”

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 28, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba
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