LTUSD revisits school start times, rezoning elementary schools
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board met on Thursday to discuss school start times and zone changing after staff made changes to the plan based off feedback.
Lake Tahoe Unified School District Director of Elementary Education Dr. Alan Reeder presented the board with updated zoning and start time plans following a presentation in November 2021 that left many parents worried about how the changing school times would effect elementary school zoning.
Senate Bill 328 requires that middle schools may not start before 8 a.m., and high schools may not start before 8:30 a.m. In order to comply with the new bill, which will go into effect July 1, 2022, the district plans to change the zoning of elementary schools.
“We would be looking at … elementary schools starting anywhere between 9:15 and 9:55 a.m. with a release as late 4:15 p.m.,” said Dr. Reeder. “So some of the things to consider is if we have no zones and students can choose any of the four schools transportation, we’re going to have lengthy bus rides.”
Currently, many students spend up to two hours on the bus every day between the ride to and from school, which Reeder and District Superintendent Dr. Todd Cutler are attempting to avoid with the new zoning and transportation plan.
The new plan will see elementary schools start between 8-8:15 a.m., with a release between 2:20-2:35 p.m., with the middle school beginning between 8:45-9 a.m. and releasing between 3-3:15 p.m., and the high school beginning 15 minutes earlier and ending 15 minutes later.
Additionally, the zones would move away from the previous plan that had overlap of zones and created three separate ones instead. The zones would be separated by Sierra House boundary, Tahoe Valley Elementary boundary, and Meyers boundary. Bijou Community School would not have a zone, which would allow any student to attend classes there.
The concern for Bijou’s two-way immersion program was high among parents who were worried the integrity of the program was at risk if it were to be zoned out, according to feedback that was given by the community and presented at the meeting.
The immersion program is a bilingual K-5 education program that integrates both English learners and English speakers and provides instruction through both languages.
In the new plan presented by Reeder, the Bijou school would have a separate bus that would travel to each school and bring students to and from the campus. This way, any student in the city can attend and eliminate longer bus times.
Board President Bonnie Turnbull pointed out that while solutions did need to be found for the Bijou programs, it shouldn’t take away from the importance other schools and students.
“Bijou is an exceptional school and we need to find ways to support that as best as we can,” said Turnbull. “On the other hand, it’s also very important to me that we are clear that every student at every school has this opportunity to discover their unique talents and potential. So having a different perception of different schools, I don’t feel like it’s a healthy thing for our community.”
Cutler countered that each school is unique in their own ways, and that the zoning process should not leave out any students from the school they would like to go to, nor should it say anything to the quality of any of the other elementary schools in the district.
“I think that inviting new ideas and thinking and creativity is one of the important ways for us to improve our system,” Cutler said.
The new zoning system would give students priority who wish to attend school in their new zone, with the goal to accommodate as many students as they can to stay in their current schools.
“We really feel as though we have the flexibility and ability to truly create the zones, create the transportation within, but also have some flexibility to help the students families needs if they want to attend a different school,” Cutler said. “So we really think that it’s going to be feasible.”
There is already a disproportionate amount of students at each elementary school, with three times the amount of students in zone one compared to zone three in Meyers, meaning the new zoning could even out enrollment.
The revised plan will still drastically reduce bus times for students while giving those who’d like to attend a school in their neighborhood a chance to do so. The new plan will also reduce transportation challenges in general by providing a secure way for students to get to and from Bijou school as well.
The topic of if the school district could be considered rural arose, and Reeder suggested the district could also go in the direction of being certified as a rural area.
After further research, staff decided to pursue the zoning and time change option. To be considered a rural area, a county is required to have less than 70,000 people and would require the school to be designated as “rural” under the federal Universal Service E-rate program.
The discussion ended with potential next steps for the board. On Thursday, March 24, Reeder will bring back the item as an action item for the board to vote on, determining whether or not the zoning process will begin.
If approved, family surveying will begin in April for families preferred choices for the 2022-23 year, with review for enrollment beginning in late August.
For more information, visit ltusd.org.
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