PCAB Bell Schedule Questions and Answers

1. How has BCPSS planned for increased pressure on transit, particularly if the start time is anticipated to overlap with adult commuters?

The number of students riding MTA is not expected to increase as a result of new school bell times. City Schools has alerted MTA that bell times will be changing. MTA and City Schools have agreed upon a timeframe to provide MTA with the new times so MTA can take the new times into consideration when planning MTA route adjustments for fall 2023.

2. How has BCPSS planned for increased demand for afternoon transit?

A simultaneous start time will still see varied commutes based on distance from the school (e.g., a student traveling from Brooklyn to Poly will have to begin their journey much earlier than a student traveling from Medfield). By contrast, a simultaneous release will create a large demand on routes that serve schools, particularly for large schools (e.g., Digital Harbor) or those in close proximity (e.g., Poly/Western, Mervo/City). The new bell schedule will continue to have staggered bell times as in previous years. We are not moving forward with the idea of one bell time for all high schools.

3. How has BCPSS planned for safety related to large congregations of young people at transit hubs that serve several schools and the general public (e.g. Mondawmin which not only serves Bard, Connexions, Coppin, Douglass but is also a common transfer point for the general public)?

The number of student travelers at transit hubs is not expected to increase. City Schools police have been briefed on the effort to modify bell times so they can prepare adjustments to their deployment plans if needed.

3a. To what degree will BCPSS school police and MTA transit police be used for security at these locations? What additional training, if any, will be provided? How will arrest and other data be collected and evaluated?

City Schools police and MTA transit police currently support transit hubs and will continue to do so. Significant adjustments in staffing or training plans are not expected to be needed as a result of the new bell schedule.

3b. Apart from safety concerns at transit hubs and on transit itself (see, e.g., FEE's recent report which highlighted safety and gender-based harassment), what steps is BCPSS taking alone or in partnership with MTA to address safety if start times are moved such as additional bus shelters, lighting, ensuring stops are cleared in inclement weather, relocating bus stops, etc.

The new bell times for next school year fall within the window of current bell times. There will be no schools in SY 22-23 that are starting before the earliest start time in SY 21-22 and no schools in SY 22-23 will be starting later than the last start time of SY 21-22. City Schools and other stakeholders have requested that MTA increase lighting and shelters.

3c. How will families and students communicate difficulties or complaints to BCPSS or MTA related to safety or service? How will those complaints and difficulties be tracked?

Families, students and stakeholders can email Transportation@bcps.k12.md.us or call The Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) at 410-396-7440 to communicate difficulties and complaints for all transportation concerns including MTA. OPT will communicate with contractors and provide resolutions.

4. Has BCPSS explored possible health effects? For example, the effect of longer, early AM wait times on students with asthma (especially those near BRESCO or along CSX tracks)?

Wait times at MTA bus stops are not expected to increase as a result of the new bell schedule.

5. What about students waiting earlier in the winter months? Will BCPSS commit to moving up announcements about weather-related school delays or closures? Will there be capacity if schools are dismissed early?

The window of times that students arrive at MTA bus stops are not expected to shift as a result of the new bell schedule. Weather-related school delays or closures are not related to bell times. Historically, MTA capacity has not expanded on early dismissal days for schools.

6. Has BCPSS explored the effects of early start times on academic achievement (the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended schools for this age group start at 8:30AM or later https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/134/3/642/74175/School-StartTimes-for-Adolescents)?

Yes. City Schools discussed the impact of early start times on adolescent students. Stakeholders raised a variety of pros and cons for both earlier and later start times for high schools without a consensus on either option. High school start times will continue to be staggered next school year.

7. What feedback has BCPSS received from administrators, teachers, staff, and young people about this decision? What about vendors of before and after care programming, community school coordinators, contractual service providers (e.g. OT, PT, speech), and coaches?

Generally, there is an acknowledgment of the need to adjust bell times in order to decrease unrouted students, improve on time arrival of yellow buses and decrease ride times. The perspectives on which bell times would be ideal are very mixed. Feedback was collected from representatives of the following groups: school-based staff, students, administrators, parents, community members, central office staff who support schools, MTA, school police and the public health advisory board.

8. Can BCPSS describe the steps MTA has promised or is considering to increase on time rates and/or increase capacity on routes, particularly those that large high schools?

Current on-time rates for the bus are in the low 70% range; on-time is defined as up to two minutes early or seven minutes late, see https://www.mta.maryland.gov/performance-improvement. MTA’s strategies would be best described by MTA.

9. Can BCPSS describe any research or surveys it has undertaken or is considering about the effects of simultaneous start/end times on before/aftercare for elementary and middle school students? Younger students will likely be affected by the shift as older siblings or parents may not be available to accompany or transport them to school. Start times will continue to be staggered for high schools.

10. Can BCPSS describe the equity analyses it has undertaken in considering these changes? To what degree are these changes likely to disproportionately affect the attendance and achievement of students who rely on MTA (as opposed to personal transportation) and/or those with longer, multi-bus or multi-modal commutes? What policies or measures are planned to mitigate these disparities?

There will be multiple improvements over multiple years aimed at addressing transportation related inequities. This round of changes is largely focused on addressing the inequity of students who qualify for transportation not receiving service and the large number of yellow bus riders who arrive at school late.

11. Why is this decision being considered and announced so late in the year and well after the deadline to participate in the choice process? What is BCPSS' communication plan for this decision, including to families who speak a language other than English?

Next year’s bell schedule is the result of several months of analysis and planning. The communication plan for the new schedule includes in-language messaging via emails, family events, school-based communications, etc.

12. What evaluation is BCPSS considering to demonstrate that this change is effective in enabling students to participate in sports, after school activities, or the workforce (all reasons cited as contributing to this decision, as was yellow bus transit for students with special needs or other mandates)? The primary measure of effectiveness will be the number of unrouted students.

12a. Has BCPSS considered a mid-point evaluation or year-end review of absenteeism and tardiness following this change? Attendance data has been pulled for schools with bell time changes last year and will continue to be monitored for schools with bell time changes next year.

12b. Under what criteria might BCPSS consider walking back this decision (e.g., certain % increase in tardiness over baseline)? The primary measure of effectiveness will be the number of unrouted students. Attendance data will be monitored. Bell time adjustments will likely continue for the next several years as the landscape of transportation needs changes due to changes in swing space routes, school location changes, etc.

13. Can BCPSS describe its efforts to resolve the difficult shortages of yellow buses via other means? Can you please describe outreach efforts to organizations like Central Maryland Transportation Alliance or the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, who could lend their expertise and advice, BUILD, or other organizations that may have service fleets (e.g., churches or other community organizations)? The Office of Pupil Transportation issued additional solicitations to obtain additional yellow bus contractors. The rate of pay for yellow bus drivers was increased by $5 per hour to recruit and retain drivers. FTEs were added to train interested people to obtain CDL’s to transport students. Solicitations for van companies were issued to increase capacity. OPT reached out to Amazon to evaluate routing procedures and a bell time consultant. Both recommended changing bell times to increase capacity and efficiency. We did not contact other agencies to provide transportation service as COMAR 13A.06.07 requires that student transportation service must adhere to the state’s regulations.