School board to continue studying later start times

Aug. 26, 2014 @ 04:03 PM

It appears the school board was on to something when it asked staffers to look at the possibility of delaying start times for most schools by 30 minutes.

A report released this week by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that school districts delay the start of classes to 8:30 a.m. or later to ensure that students receive the recommended 8.5 hours to 9.5 hours of sleep each night.

The report backs research contending that more sleep for adolescents could lead to better educational outcomes.

Most of Durham Public Schools’ middle schools and high schools start at 7:30 a.m.

DPS staffers drafted a proposal that would have had those schools start 30 minutes later, at 8 a.m..

After a robust discussion on the subject, the board agreed that more study is needed and more community outreach is required to sell the idea of later start times to parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders.

School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter, a supporter of later start times, said Tuesday that the pediatrician’s recommendation should boost support for later start times.

“I think it absolutely will,” Carter said. “It brings all of the research into focus.”

The school board has ruled out later start times for the 2015-16 school year, but Carter said they could be in place by the 2016-17 school year.

 “It’s in the realm of possibility,” Carter said, adding that the decision would depend on support from a majority of school board members.

School board Vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown said the school board is receiving daily correspondence from researchers,  psychologists, pediatricians and parents asking why the board is “dragging it’s feet” on implementing later start times.

Forte-Brown said the board is taking its time to make sure it hears from all segments of the community before making such a big change in the school schedule.

 “Anytime you change anything you’ve got to get parents ready for that,” Forte-Brown said. “We also want to hear from people who aren’t going to call us, not going to write. We need to know what they’re going to do with their kids if we change the start times.”

Forte-Brown also agreed that 2016-17 would likely be the earliest school start times could change.

“Before we interrupt people’s schedules, we need to have some conversations,” Forte-Brown said.

The AAP report makes strong case for later start times, concluding that such a change could also improve students’ mental and physical health as well as their report cards.

 “The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” pediatrician Judith Owens said in a statement.

Owens is the lead author of the policy statement “School Start Times for Adolescents,” which was published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics.

A school district report outlined 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, DPS staffers expressed concern about transportation, including the lengthening of bus route times due to travel in heavier late-afternoon traffic.