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Education

AACPS cancels before-school clubs as part of start time shift

Anne Arundel County Public Schools will not offer before-school clubs to students next school year, a change taking place as the district shifts high school start times later and elementary start times earlier.

Videos released by the school system last week stated that no before-school activities would take place at high schools. On Friday, schools spokesman Bob Mosier said that will be the case for elementary and middle schools as well, which means decades-long programs, like the gymnastics, dance and jump rope teams at Broadneck Elementary School, will no longer meet before school. Mosier said it would be counterintuitive to shift start times and then offer activities that have students waking up early.

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Mosier said principals are working to find new times for such clubs during school hours or after school.

Start times are changing to better align class schedules with adolescent sleep patterns, Mosier said, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and approved by the Anne Arundel County Board of Education. High schools will start an hour later, around 8:30 a.m., and elementary schools will open between 8 and 8:30 a.m. Middle schools will open at 9:15 a.m., a later move for some but a small change for schools like Magothy River and Severn River middle, which start at 9:25 a.m. now.

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Mosier said elementary students often wake up hours before school starts.

“The intent in moving to earlier elementary times was to eradicate that gap, not to push elective activities earlier in the morning,” he said in an email.

Lisa Saunders, of Annapolis, has children in sixth, , eighth and 10th grade, and her older children have participated in the junior and senior dance companies at Severn River Middle School, she said. But next year her youngest might not have the same chance. Severn River Middle School opens at 9:25 a.m. and is moving to a 9:15 a.m. start next year.

“The communication was not transparent,” she said. “A lot of parents are going to be shocked about the clubs.”

Crofton resident Elizabeth Fine, who has children in Crofton Middle and High schools, is worried the elementary schoolers will need to pick between the arts and athletics. The pandemic has limited those opportunities for two years, she said.

“They should have all the opportunity in the world right now,” she said.

She is also concerned about the lack of communication about the change to morning clubs. Fine said she heard a rumor, and had confirmed that rumor with a staff member, but as of Friday morning had not read or heard from AACPS that elementary and middle school morning programs were canceled. Mosier provided a statement Friday after The Capital spoke to Fine.

District 5 County Council Member Amanda Fiedler remembers attending morning clubs as a student in Anne Arundel County Public Schools. She is now a parent in the school district , and said the morning clubs, which are voluntary, help meet the needs of the district because many students are also athletes, who practice in the afternoon. She, too, is worried that students will have to choose between programs.

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“I have serious concerns about potentially gutting music programs,” the Arnold Republican said.

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Kerry Gillespie said her daughter is in honor chorus at Magothy River Middle, a voluntary program that practices in the mornings before the school’s 9:25 a.m. start. The start time is moving to 9:15 a.m. next year, 10 minutes earlier, but the school will no longer have morning practices. Gillespie said she understands that the board is trying to do what is best for children and their sleep schedules — but the programs being changed are entirely voluntary. Students don’t have to participate.

“Taking away these programs that the kids really look forward to doing when they have already lost so much, I find it to be wrong,” she said.

Mosier said moving morning clubs later in the day will also make those programs accessible to more students.

“The building in of clubs and activities in the school day flex periods not only avoids the counterintuitive nature of early-morning activities but it creates a more equitable arrangement through which more students can benefit,” he said in an email. “Before-school clubs, by their very nature, bring with them some inequity because students who have transportation outside of a school bus have more opportunity than those who do not.”

Some parents wondered why a change was being made at middle schools, which are only shifting start times by a matter of minutes, and why those schools cannot keep morning programs.

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“As to the question of why it can’t happen just at schools that are moving a few minutes, such an arrangement — picking and choosing winners and losers based on the scale of their shift in school hours — simply contradicts efforts to impart equitable practices,” Mosier said.


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