Durham County

Want your child's school start time to change? Here's what other Durham parents think

According to a survey conducted last spring, 53 percent of high school parents want Durham Public Schools to return to the old bell schedule.
According to a survey conducted last spring, 53 percent of high school parents want Durham Public Schools to return to the old bell schedule. MCT

The majority of Durham Public Schools parents who responded to a spring survey about the recent bell schedule change want to go back to the old way of doing things.

That sentiment was particularly strong among high school parents whose children now start school at 9 a.m., instead of 7:30 a.m. like they did before the new bell schedule took effect at the start of the 2016-17 school year.

According to the survey, 53 percent of high school parents prefer the old schedule. Twenty-seven percent want to keep the current schedule. The rest want a compromise or didn’t respond to the question.

Elementary schools and and high schools essentially swapped start times beginning with the 2016-17 school.

Middle school bell schedules remained virtually unchanged with most classes starting at 7:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, 37 percent of elementary school parents want to return to the old schedule and 34 percent said they’d like to keep the current schedule. The rest want a compromise or did not respond.

The Durham school board will discuss the survey Thursday, Sept. 14, when it meets at 4:30 p.m., at the Fuller Administration Building, 511 Cleveland St.

School board member Natalie Beyer said parents and others who don’t like the changes were probably more motivated to take the survey, so it’s difficult to determine whether the results are truly representative.

At any rate, the board isn’t likely to change the bell schedule any time soon.

“When we made this change, we knew we knew we would be committed to it for several years,” Beyer said.

Sleep rhythms

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that middle schools and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents.

But high school parents said that after the shift, students simply stayed up later and that the median amount of sleep remains seven to eight hours a night.

Forty-three percent of high school parents disagreed when responding to a question about whether their children are getting more sleep compared to 33 percent who did not.

A majority of elementary school respondents said their children are getting less sleep, eight to nine hours per night compared to nine-plus hours before.

School staffers were also asked to weigh in on the change. Many of them would also like to see the bell schedule return to the way it was.

Fifty-three percent of high school staffers want to see the district return to the old bell schedule while 28 percent want to keep the same schedule.

Among school personnel, elementary school staffers appear to enjoy the new schedule the most, with 43 percent wanting to keep the current schedule. About 20 percent want a return to the old schedule.

Impact on families

The survey also asked parents and school staffers to rate the impact of the bell schedule change on students, families and staff.

Sixty percent of elementary school parents and high school parents believe the change has had a negative impact on children and families.

And around 60 percent of high school staffers believe the change is negative for staffers, families and students.

The majority of elementary school staffers said the new schedule is negative for families and staffers.

Thirty-five percent of staffers think the change is negative for students while 34 percent deemed it positive for students.

The survey was conducted by the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina, a policy research and evaluation initiative within the Department of Public Policy at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

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