NYC Families Scramble to Adjust to New School Start and End Times

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As a single mother who works, Anjanie Narine doesn’t get a lot of evening time with her eight-year-old daughter Emma. She typically gets home at around 7 p.m., and evenings in their small Long Island City apartment are often spent reading one of Emma’s books together before her 9 p.m. bedtime.

"During the reading is when we talk," Narine said, describing their routine. "Like, we’ll sit there for an hour and it’s not just about the book. It’s about everything else, everything in her life comes out in that hour."

But Emma's school, P.S. 78, is among hundreds of city schools that have adjusted their schedules because of a provision in the teachers contract that requires them to set aside time for professional development. Parents can see the new schedules at the Department of Education's link. At P.S. 78, students will start 40 minutes earlier, at 8 a.m. Narine said this means she'll have to insist on an earlier bedtime, at 8:30 p.m., giving her less time to spend with Emma each night. Her daughter said it will be nice to have more time in the afternoon, when school gets out earlier.

"But it also means 40 less minutes to spend time with my mom," she added. "And sometimes I feel like I just don’t get enough time with my mom."

Narine also estimates she'll have to spend $3000 extra this school year to have the babysitter pick up Emma earlier each day.

It's hard enough for working families to change their schedule around one child, but those with students attending two different schools are really scrambling in areas where both schools will now start at the same time. In Bayside, Queens, several elementary and middle schools are now starting at 8 a.m., because the elementary schools are starting earlier.

Bayside parents Leslie Rubenstein and Gene McQuillan (Beth Fertig/WNYC)

Gene McQuillan and Leslie Rubenstein have a son and daughter at P.S. 41 and M.S. 158, and worry about how to be in two places at once. The middle school is still starting at 8 a.m., just like last year, but the elementary school has now shifted its start time from 8:40 to 8 a.m.

'All summer, we’ve been talking with friends who are in the same situation," said Rubenstein. Despite the neighborhood's suburban feel, and single family homes, she said the traffic is much too dangerous in Bayside to let her children walk to school. They typically drive their kids. But Rubenstein leaves for work too early to help out by taking one child while her husband drives the other; he'll now have to take both.

"Thankfully we have a lot of friends and a lot of friends with minivans," said McQuillan.

The scheduling changes were made in June, right after the teachers contract was ratified. A few principals made changes after protests from parents. But they didn’t have to involve the families unless they wanted to start school before 8 a.m. Some families who missed the memo only learned about the changes over the summer.

Many families have complained about feeling ignored by the Department of Education. But there are some who like the changes.

Jennifer Chen and her children Sophie, Chloe and Daniel (left to right) don't mind the new school schedules (Beth Fertig/WNYC)

Jennifer Chen, of Manhattan, said her husband used to be late for work when he would drop two of their three children off in Chinatown, because their elementary school, P.S. 130, didn’t start until almost 8:50. Now that it’s starting earlier, at 8:15, she said he'll be right on time for his medical practice downtown.  She also thinks the kids will have a better afternoon because they'll get out earlier.

"They have time to relax, time to take a snack, they have time to, you know, do homework and have dinner and shower," she explained. Her oldest daughter, Chloe, is also excited that her middle school starts later because she likes to sleep. But she might have trouble with that, since she shares a bedroom with her younger siblings who both have to wake up earlier this fall to go to elementary school.