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School start-time committee wants H.S. to start later

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School start-time committee wants H.S. to start later
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The School District 833 committee to study school start times will recommend moving high school start times to at least 40 minutes later in one plan, and one hour and five minutes later in another proposal.


However, proposed plans, slated to go to the school board in January have been postponed until February.

Meeting since mid-October, the committee heard from experts on adolescent sleep cycles who said, based on University of Minnesota research, that sleep is regulated by melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone, which cause teens to sleep from 11 p.m. to about 8 a.m. Early school start times find them sleepy in early morning classes.

Committee members agreed and set out to redo start times for all district schools beginning next year to accommodate the high school change.

If the current start of 7:30 a.m. could only be moved ahead twenty minutes, it would not be worth changing, the committee decided.

One schedule under discussion has an 8:10 a.m. high school start time and another has an 8:35 a.m. start time with school ending at 3:05 p.m.

No start times before 7:45 a.m. are being considered for any school.

Considering up to 15 plans for starts for all schools has proved to be a daunting task.

At the Dec. 8 meeting, after considerable discussion, Dave Bernhardson, committee facilitator, suggested the group was not ready to take two to three schedules to the school board in January and members agreed.

That means community meetings to discuss proposals won't be held until late February.

"I'd like to see a change," said Superintendent Tom Nelson, who attended the Dec. 8 meeting to speak to committee members.

However, he said, the school board decision to expand start times from four to five, to accommodate lowering walking distances, cannot be changed.

Changes must be at no cost to the district. Buying more buses is not an option because there is no room for them at the bus facility in Cottage Grove.

"There will be some schools that will change start times," he said. "Should we change? Everybody knows the research over the past 10 to 15 years."

Change is difficult, Nelson said, and is going to meet resistance.

Changing to new start times is not as simple as moving all elementary schools to early starts, high schools next and middle schools to even later starts.

The committee has worked closely with transportation because the routes can't exceed 90, according to Gary Dechaine, transportation director.

The variables include that the Gateway program for gifted and talented students, now at Royal Oaks Elementary School but will move to Bailey Elementary School next year, must start at the same time as the rest of the school because they utilize the same specialists and lunch times.

Currently, Gateway students are bused from throughout the district with New Life Academy students to the New Life school. From there, they are shuttled to Bailey. Because it's a long route, the earliest start time might be a hardship.

Terry Campbell, New Life principal, said he doesn't want a late start time but that 7:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. start times would be acceptable.

Crestview Elementary School and Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion are separate schools within the Crestview building. They don't have the same start times because of potential traffic problems. Also, it's best that neither start time coincide with the start of Park High School, located on same campus.

In one schedule, Pine Hill, Pullman and Newport elementary schools would move from their current early start at 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. to 9:20 a.m., a change committee members think might be too drastic.

In another schedule, teens who attend the Alternative Learning Center at the District Program Center would start at 7:45 p.m. and would not have the assumed benefits of a later start time.

Middle school seventh- and eighth-graders, as they begin adolescence, might be affected be melatonin, and thus might benefit from later start times.

Suggestions are being explored to help the committee move forward include busing ALC students to their home high schools and shuttling them to ALC and busing New Life students on a separate bus without Gateway students.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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