By Henry Schmidel

It’s easy to be late for class, and for many students, it’s nothing more than their reality. Simply put, our schedules aren’t designed with travel times as a consideration. Mine certainly isn’t. Four times per rotation I have to make it from the Collins Center to room 224 in the back corner of the freshman hallway, or vice versa. Every single time, I have to make that trek through the baying horde of students going up the stairs from fourth lunch.

There’s a reason it takes so long to move from class to class. Principal Conrad said in an interview with the Andover Townsman that “the current high school, constructed in 1966 with a partial renovation done in 1995, comfortably accommodates an enrollment of up to 1,500. There are currently 1,800 students in the school.” It shows. Between classes, it can take over three minutes to go from the first to the third floor in one of the school’s two full-height staircases.

IMG_3116The Hike, as I’ve taken to calling it, isn’t a problem experienced by me alone. As you can see from the map of the school, I only have to travel up one floor and around. Yet on October 30th, it took me 5:31.45 from leaving my E block class to arriving in my G  block. That’s more than thirty seconds longer than the time we’re alloted to move, and it doesn’t even account for the time it takes students to put away all of their class materials and walk out of the door. Frankly, I’m lucky. Every day as I’m walking into my class late, I see others in the halls behind me, still trying to race to their rooms. For many students, showing up late to class is the only choice that they’re given.

Students who are late to class four times in a semester can, depending on their teacher’s reporting, receive a teacher detention after school for every subsequent tardy. Chronic lateness will result in consultation with the assistant principal, and could result in suspension for the student. This can be found on pages 24-25 of the student handbook. How does suspending a student for being late help them to learn more effectively? What can students do to avoid being late? Other than pleading forgiveness from a teacher, the only solution allowed by the school would be to change schedules.

The guidance office allows students to change their schedule for the first few weeks of school, but it’s intended for classes that aren’t a good fit for the student. Should AHS force people to sacrifice their classes in order to evade punishment? Of course not. We’re here to learn, and missing a minute or two at the start of class won’t detract from that as much as the stress of a detention, suspension, or any additional punishment inflicted by parents who hear their kid is “cutting class,” even when they aren’t.

One such student is Spencer Hovel. He claims to be late “about 50% of the time, but only by a minute or less.” He went on to say, “The teacher isn’t usually teaching yet, like, rarely is anything important happening. I’ve never been punished for it, nor even asked why I was late.” When I texted him to ask if he knew the punishment in the handbook, he quickly texted back: “Didn’t know. Def should’ve been suspended haha.”

Students aren’t the only ones who run into trouble when switching classrooms. English teacher Ms. Meagher said, “The limited transition time means less time to communicate with students at the end of a class, increases stress for students and teachers, and often results in both being late and forgetting things essential to that day.”

Another English teacher, Mr. Shea, had similar feelings. “From a teacher’s perspective,” he said, “my classes start late because I’m unable to get from one class to the next in time, and because I can’t get there in enough time it takes away from learning; class time becomes passing time.”

I also talked to teaching assistant Ms. Currier about her experiences with timing as a former student, former substitute, and brand-new full-time employee. She brought it to my attention that when substitute teachers are given their paid 30-minute lunch break, the passing time to the cafeteria is counted as a part of the break as opposed to paid teaching time. “I am very rarely on time to class,” she said. “Even when I actually went to Andover High and wasn’t in the same position of…obligation that I am now, I did not think I had enough time between classes.”

To get the administration’s stance, I asked Mr. Conrad if he thought there was enough passing time in the day. “I think so,” he said. “I know that it is tight. but it is what we have and we cannot change it or we risk falling below the 990 hour requirement for [high school] classes in Mass.” He has a point, Andover already fails to meet the state’s yearly quota. To students who struggle with tardiness, he says, “They are probably right in some cases, but I would work with them to find a variety of routes; sometimes it is a matter of using a different staircase.”

History teacher Mr. Hopkins had a potential solution to present. The administration is adding 15 minutes to the school day, starting in fall 2019, and he explained to me that the only legal document where the 15 minute addition could be found was in the teacher contract. I decided to check and see if there was any way for that time to be used in order to increase passing time.

History teacher Mr. Bach let me borrow his printed copy of the contract so I could take a look for myself. It can also be found online here, and the writing about extension of the school day is found on numbered page 11, which is page 18 of the PDF. The contract language says only that “beginning with the 2019-2020 school year, the student instructional day will be increased by 15 minutes as follows.”

Two pages later, on page 13, the “instructional day” is defined. “‘Instructional Day’ means the period each day during which students are required to attend school, starting with the time at which students must be present and ending with the time of student dismissal excluding reasonable passing time and teacher’s lunch.”

The language, unfortunately, does not allow for the extension of student passing time. It could be added to the student lunch block, which is technically instructional time, but it can’t be used to extend the time between classes. From here, I’m not sure what can be done. My recommendation to students is to never let yourself be punished for things you didn’t choose: your schedule, and the traffic in the halls. Whether that means talking to a teacher, or a counselor, or an administrator…it doesn’t matter. Advocate for yourself.