Education officials in Box Elder County have reversed course on a plan to continue a later start to the school day for K-12 students at public schools in the county.
Since November 2020, the school day had been starting one hour later than usual — a move intended to give teachers more time to work with students who were quarantined at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, the Utah State Board of Education waived its statewide requirement for the total number of in-school hours required during the 2021-22 year to allow individual districts more flexibility.
In response, the Box Elder School District Board of Education voted in a special session on May 18 to start and end the school day for the upcoming year a half-hour later than usual. But after receiving a substantial amount of feedback from concerned parents, teachers and others, the board called another special meeting on May 25, and a majority of board members voted to move start times back to what they were before the pandemic.
Board President Julie Taylor said the plan to start and end 30 minutes later was an effort to reach a compromise.
“Some felt this was a bait and switch, and that was not our intention at all,” Taylor said during the May 25 meeting. “We know the decisions we make impact families and communities. We also know we’re not going to satisfy everybody.”
The two board members representing the northern and rural areas of the county both voted in favor of returning to the pre-pandemic schedule.
Board Vice President Tiffani Summers, who represents rural parts of Box Elder County, said the large volume of feedback she received on the proposal made it clear that people in her precinct wanted to go back to the pre-pandemic schedule.
“When we made the decision (on May 18 to start the day later), I really didn’t think 30 minutes sounded like such a big deal, but it is,” Summers said. “I received emails stating the importance of family time, jobs — a whole list of why that 30 minutes is precious family time.”
Many of the students in her precinct live and work on farms and ranches and have chores to do after school, “and they want to do those chores before it gets dark,” she said.
Connie Archibald, who represents Tremonton on the school board, said that while she generally agreed with the later start time, a later end to the school day could be very disruptive to students’ lives outside of school.
“Physical fitness, the arts, jobs, our families — having that (later start) would be a disaster when we consider what it takes to have that balance in our lives,” Archibald said.
Board member Bryan Smith, representing Brigham City, said he favored the later start time because “that early time is wasted.” A later start, he said, would be “giving our teachers better preparation and collaboration time every day.”
At the end of the meeting, the board voted to restore the pre-pandemic schedule for the upcoming school year, with the exception of a later start on Wednesdays for all K-12 schools.
“Most districts I’ve looked at have decided to go back to their original schedules,” Archibald said. “I think going back to the original times prioritizes education.”