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Despite Principal's Protests, Stone Scholastic Academy Changes School Hours

By Linze Rice | July 21, 2015 1:06pm
 Stone Scholastic Academy in West Ridge is among dozens of CPS schools that will adhere to new school hours this fall.
Stone Scholastic Academy in West Ridge is among dozens of CPS schools that will adhere to new school hours this fall.
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WEST RIDGE — Stone Scholastic Academy, a Chicago Public Schools elementary school in West Ridge, is among the 17 grade schools and 60 high schools that will enter the upcoming school year with different start and end times than in previous years, according to the school's Facebook page.

The elementary school at 6239 N. Leavitt St., which normally ran its school day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., will now operate from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the school's principal, Barbara Onofrio, wrote online.

"Early last week I was contacted by the transportation department informing us there was a need to reduce busing costs to the district," Onofrio wrote Monday morning. "Please know that although I have tried to get this decision reversed, I have been unable to do so, as this decision was made at a higher level than myself and was based on fiscal concerns."

Onofrio said the change in start time was a decision that came from "downtown" as well as the school district's transportation department "to save money with the busing and add more routes to a bus."

Tom McClurg, vice chairman of the school's LSC, said that about 150 students at Stone utilize the bussing system.

He also said he couldn't understand why CPS hasn't released a list of affected schools.

"It's all so secretive, I don't know what the motivation would be for withholding that information," McClurg said.

Onofrio wrote that she and others have been trying to appeal the decision to change start times, but so far to no avail.

"This is so stupid, especially moving the younger kids to the earlier start times," Wintre Keller, who has a daughter going into first grade at Stone, told DNAinfo. "They are growing and need to sleep."

That concern was shared by McClurg, who said while he understood there is money involved in the decision to change school hours, it's ultimately a policy that he's afraid can have serious repurcussions, including "being too tired to be at their best for learning."

He pointed to studies that have come out in recent years in favor of later start times for teens when it comes to facing the school day. In August 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study that recommended first-period classes begin at 8:30 a.m. at the earliest.

"There's already pressure on the kids to achieve the perfect grades, the perfect test score results in order to get into very selective high schools, and this is just another disadvantage for the kids at Stone," McClurg said.

In an email written to Onofrio, Keller also said she worried that her daughter, who also attends an after school program, will be at school too many hours a day, risking her to "miss out on time to do homework, spend time with her family, and other important things that contribute to a healthy childhood."

McClurg agreed, saying that the new policy will have unintended consequences of putting a burden on after care programs, like the one Keller's daughter attends, as well as parents.

Both parents also cited safety as a top concern with the new class times, especially when it comes to students waiting at a bus stop at 6 a.m. during the "depths of winter," McClurg said.

In Keller's letter to Onofrio, she also expressed worry that having kids out too early in the morning before sunrise could pose potential danger.

"In the cold winter months, what about the poor kids who have to take the bus who now have to stand outside in the dark?" she said in her letter.

As kids are expected to arrive at school earlier, Keller also said she believed the "horrible" new policy could lead to increased absenteeism and tardiness.

On July 1, CPS officials announced bell times would shift at some schools as part of the $200 million in cuts the school district rolled out. Schools with changing bell times were given final notice of their schedules on Monday, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said earlier this month.

Shifting the start time at the 77 schools will save CPS $9.2 million by reducing the number of bus shifts to two, allowing the district to cut 160 buses and 75 aides, Bittner said.

"With a $1.1 billion budget deficit, the bell time shift provides significant savings instead of making cuts to the classroom," she said.

When districtwide budget cuts were announced last week, although Stone was expected to have five less students than last year — an important figure when considering CPS' student-based budgeting system — Stone was still set to receive $19,752 in additional funds than the previous year, according to data from CPS.

"It's sort of a drastic move to save a few pennies," McClurg said.

Onofrio said she'd requested Martin Ellinger from the CPS Department of Transportation to attend a Local School Council meeting Monday night, but that he'd been unable to show up because he'd been "pulled into another meeting."

Onofrio did not respond to request for comment.

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