7:30 Is Too Early HOWARD COUNTY

January 27, 1993

Howard County education officials have proposed starting classes 15 minutes earlier next school year. The plan, which would affect all eight county high schools and most middle, elementary and special schools, would allow transportation schedulers to squeeze in several more bus runs daily. That would save $450,000, mostly on new buses to carry some 1,500 additional students.

We're all for public agencies working to get the most value from a buck. But we can't help but feel there must be a better, less burdensome way for the school system to cut .2 percent from a $202 million budget.

This plan would burden high schoolers particularly. Their classes currently begin at 7:45 a.m., though under the proposal, their first class would start at 7:30. Even 7:45 sounds too early, given that kids need time to wash, dress, eat breakfast and get to school. Forcing this routine to commence 15 minutes earlier seems to demand too much of youngsters already beating the rooster to sunrise.

Cup an ear and you might hear indignant adults arguing that they have to rise plenty early to make a living, so why should kids get it any softer? But these are students, not stevedores. They're engaged in what will be among the most important undertakings of their lives -- getting an education. It's not unreasonable, then, to raise the fear that starting the day so early will leave them in less than optimum shape for tackling their subjects.

There's also their safety to consider. One school board member rightly worried about "students out there before sunrise . . . There are a lot of country roads out there [with people] driving very fast."

In winter, students will be waiting for buses in darkness. That TC might be less of a concern where sidewalks are common, but in the many rural sections of the county, kids will be standing on the narrow shoulders of winding roads. Do school officials implement their plan and then keep their fingers crossed that no tragic accidents occur?

Superintendent Michael Hickey says that the $450,000 has already been slashed from next year's budget, and that the savings will have to come from other sources if not from the new schedule. Those alternatives should be investigated. Some painful cuts might have to be made, but they might not be so painful as jeopardizing the learning conditions or, worse, the safety of county students.

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