Parents, district ponder possible school time change

We all need sleep, and research has shown a number of benefits for adolescents when they’re able to get more of it.
Superintendent Jim Johnson said the district has been looking at the research for years without a serious effort to determine if Monticello schools should change their schedule to help students get more of the shut-eye they are lacking. This year they decided to take action on the issue and look at possible changes to school start times, and they sought parents’ questions and concerns on this issue last Thursday evening.
About 20 parents attended the exploratory meeting with Superintendent Jim Johnson and school board members to discuss the possibility of elementary students starting school earlier in the morning and the older students starting later, which is opposite of the current schedule.
Johnson invited parents to gather in small groups and write down their questions and concerns regarding the potential switch. He gave answers where a short answer would suffice but otherwise wrote down the questions so he could gather the information and answers parents were looking for. Meeting attendees came up with several points of discussion during the meeting, some that Johnson said they had not considered thus far.
One parent asked how much extra sleep older students would really get if they get out of school later, then have after school sports and activities at a later time before heading home for dinner and homework.
Another parent agreed, but then noted that this later to bed, later to rise strategy for teens would work better with their melatonin levels since they produce melatonin later into the morning.
Still other parents said that they have heard much about how much better it is for adolescents to sleep later, but haven’t heard the research on how an earlier start time would affect younger students. What does the research say about having an elementary student starting school so early, they wondered.
As noted, the research does point to a number of positive outcomes for adolescents who get enough sleep. Dr. Joe Mahoney, a local pediatrician, attended as a parent in the district, and he said the research behind this originated out of the University of Minnesota in the late 1990s. He explained that a later school start time for adolescents has been shown to produce less behavior problems, less drug use, less car accidents, less sports injuries and less obesity, among other things.
Transportation issues also cropped up in discussion, most notably when parents asked if transportation policies would be changed so elementary students within current walking distance of their school would not have to walk in the dark. This was a point that district officials had not yet considered. Another parents group asked about the feasibility of starting all schools at the same time. Johnson explained the cost difference between a double load bus ($45,000-$50,000 per year) versus a single load bus ($30,000 per year), explaining that this would require the school to spend more on busing since the single load buses aren’t as cost effective.
Other questions meeting attendees brought up were: How much school time would student athletes have to miss to get to their activities on time – and what would the costs be to hire substitutes when coaching teachers need to leave the classroom early? How would the change affect older students and their ability to hold an after-school job? How would it affect family life and child care: older siblings wouldn’t be home first to watch younger siblings, yet some parents would benefit by not having to pay for morning childcare for their younger kids. Others worried that they would not have enough family time if young kids needed to get to bed earlier and parents do not get home from work until the later dinner hour.
Johnson said he would take all these questions and start finding out answers. He will announce the next meeting time in the next few weeks and said it will take place sometime after the holidays.
“I want [all of the district’s students] to reach to their highest potential in whatever that might be,” Johnson said, referring to them all as ‘his kids.’ “That’s what this is about, and that’s why we’re taking a look at this. I want us to do the best thing we can for our kids … all things considered, not just the academic side.”
“I think there is no question that for certain kids … this makes sense, and that’s really important to us,” added board member Liz Leitch-Sell. “But it is also important that we think about all these other things because it might not weigh out to be worth it with all the other pieces.”
For his part, Mahoney reminded attendees that the root cause of this entire issue is the lack of sleep.
“The underlying problem is just a lack of sleep, and we can fix that in multiple different ways, regardless of which way we go with this,” Mahoney said.