Bridge Work Could Mean School Start Times Change In Keys

Jan 20, 2020

Starting high school later in the morning for health reasons is under discussion locally and nationally. The Monroe County school district is considering pushing back the start times — but for a different reason.

In mid April the only bridge to get onto or off of Key West is going under construction.

Monroe School Board member Andy Griffiths said traffic already backs up for a mile coming onto Key West in the morning.

"Of course, school starts right around that rush hour time. So what we want to do is try to make those early runs up the Keys and bring the buses back before the rush hour to do the Key West runs," he said.

Work on the Cow Key Channel Bridge is expected to cause serious traffic snarls, especially during the morning and evening rush hours.
Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN

One option would be changing the start of Key West High School from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m.. But that means Sugarloaf School, which has kindergarten through eighth grade, would start a half hour earlier, at 7:30 instead of 8 a.m.

Some parents of Sugarloaf students object.

Rhonda Threlkeld has two kids who attend Sugarloaf. She says the school buses already start early, because of the large geographic area they cover. And if it's pushed back half an hour, the first pickup will be at 5:30 a.m.

That student "is going to have to get up at 4:45 in the morning," she said. "That's insane."

And she said ending the school day earlier will be a problem for parents trying to get to the school on time to pick up their kids, or forced to pay more for after-school care.

Griffiths says research shows little kids are more adaptable, while teenagers' brains do much better with a late start.

District staff have proposed making the change March 23, when classes resume after Spring Break. Another option — favored by Threlkeld and others — is to wait and see if the traffic is really as bad as everyone fears once construction starts in mid-April.

"Why would you treat a problem that may not ever exist?" Threlkeld said.

Griffiths said that could have other ramifications if the traffic is as bad as everyone fears and they have to change the schedule later.

"Unfortunately our testing schedule is in the month of May. And so to try to execute the change during that would also be a challenge that we probably wouldn't want to subject the students to," he said.

Starting high school later would also affect the timing of sports, other after-school activities and after-school jobs.

"We used to start school later. Ten years ago, we started school later and somehow we managed to acccomodate all those activities and jobs," he said.

A few years ago, the district looked at the possibility of starting high school later for the same reasons Miami-Dade schools are now considering it. At the time, the board decided to hold off on making changes.

"But now our hand is kind of being forced with this bridge project," Griffiths. It's even possible the high schools might keep the later start times.

"Sometimes this is what makes change happen," he said, "necessity."