No late start times for the 2015-16 school year

Aug. 18, 2014 @ 01:07 PM

A proposal to start most schools 30 minutes later isn’t likely to get off the ground anytime soon.

After a robust discussion last week, school board members agreed that more study is needed as well as more time to sell the idea to stakeholders, many of whom are comfortable with the current school start times.
“We’re not recommending any change in start times for the 2015-16 school year and probably not even after that,” said school board Chairwoman Heidi Carter. “It would take a substantial amount of time to do the outreach.”
Board members agreed that public opinion about the proposed change is probably more important than research showing that later start times allow students to get more sleep, which in turn, leads to better academic performance.
“That’s what we have to do is to convince ourselves and also convince all of the stakeholders, which includes teachers, principals and school board members, administrators and parents and students and businesses and child-care providers and coaches and basically all of these stakeholder groups,” Carter said. “We have to raise awareness about this issue.”
DPS staffers prepared the plan in case the school board wanted to consider changing school start times beginning with the 2015-16 school year.
Members of the board’s Administrative Services Committee requested an analysis in June showing the impact of all bell times starting 30 minutes later.
A school district report outlines the pros and cons of starting elementary schools at 9:30 a.m., instead of 9 a.m., and most middle schools and high schools at 8:00 a.m., instead of 7:30 a.m.
Some of the concerns noted in the report is the impact a change to later start times might have on after-school programs, concern about elementary school children arriving home later than they already do and the impact on parents’ work schedule.
Also, there was concern about transportation, including the lengthening of bus route times because of traveling in heavier late-afternoon traffic.
Support for changing start times centered on the long held conventional wisdom and academic research that suggest high school students learn better with later start times because they get more sleep.
Carter said recent research shows that a slight variation in school start times does improve teens’ mental functions and leads to more sleep time.
“Everything we know about the brain’s timing and teenagers screams at us that they need to sleep later and they need more sleep and that we need to start school later,” Carter said.
School board member Leigh Bordley said that she couldn’t support the proposal in its entirety.
“This doesn’t look good to me right now,” Bordley said. “If I had to pick something right now I would vote to have the high schools start at 8 with no changes to the other schools. That to me seems the most moderate, reasonable approach that will help our students educationally.” 
Bordley said it’s unclear just how big an impact later start times would have on academic achievement.
“Even a small difference in the amount time makes a big difference, and we’ll have to look at how big, in terms of those negative consequences of not getting enough sleep,” Bordley said. 
School board Vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown agreed with her colleagues that not getting enough sleep can have negative impact on students, but said later start times won’t guarantee students will get more sleep.
“I hear you, but I’m thinking as a high school kid that if I don’t have to get up to 8 o’clock, I can stay up later,” said Forte-Brown said.
She said a highly qualified teacher in the classroom is going to make the biggest impact on student achievement.
“I think when we look at it, a good teacher in the classroom, an excellent teacher in the classroom is going to determine whether our children do well or not no what time they get to school,” Forte-Brown said.
She also worried about the impact later start times would have on students who participate in athletics.  
Meanwhile, school board member Matt Sears said the board should use the discussion about school start times as a spring board into a larger conversation.
“I would hope we would work with researchers and staff to look at other issues that would have a significant effect size like extending the school day and designing our holistic model, not just a shift, what does Durham education look like to best improve teaching and learning for our community,” Sears said.