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Should high school start times be later?

Should high school start times be later?

'People value the research and they do see that it is compelling'
Should high school start times be later?
Photographer: Shutterstock

Guilderland High School has one of the earliest start times in the Capital Region, but its school board is hoping to get state lawmakers to make it easier for them and other districts to move to later start times.

The local school board’s proposal, which will work its way through the state School Board Association during the coming months, seeks to develop incentives that would ease the transition to something pediatricians and other experts have long advocated but district officials have been reluctant to take on: starting high school and middle school classes later in the morning.

“We just keep trying,” said Guilderland school board member Barbara Fraterrigo, who spoke on behalf of the board and has been interested in the issue for a decade. “It’s like turning the Titanic; you have to do it in little steps.”

The Guilderland school board approved a resolution last week that calls for “any and all changes to state law, regulations and state policies that encourage and incentivize… later school start times.” If adopted at a regular meeting of school board members across the state in the fall, the proposal becomes a legislative priority of the state School Boards Association.

Guilderland High School starts classes at 7:30 a.m., according to the district website.

In Schenectady, which starts high school classes at 8:30 a.m., the school board approved a resolution supporting Guilderland’s position last week.

Meanwhile, superintendents from throughout the region have discussed the issue of later start times during regular meetings hosted by the Capital Region BOCES. Those discussions generated enough interest that the group commissioned a research brief that cataloged of how districts in the area have transitioned to later start times.

“I can’t speak to why the changes haven’t been made yet, but I do believe there is interest,” said researcher Jennifer Bashant of Capital Area School Development Association. 

CASDA, a regional education research group affiliated with the University of Albany, worked on a literature review of school day start times for publc school superintendents. 

“People value the research and they do see that it is compelling,” Bashant said.

The research dates back to at least the 1990s and indicates strong connections between better academic and behavioral outcomes when students in their teenage years start school later in the morning.

The American Academy of Pediatricians in 2014 recommended middle and high schools start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

But few districts have moved toward later start times, pointing to the logistical hurdles of reshaping bus routes, changing traditional schedules for after-school athletics and other activities and disrupting accepted schedules in countless households. Some districts, according to the CASDA study, have analyzed the start time issue but ultimately did not make changes.

“There isn’t much to speak against it except for some of the challenges that come up in terms of just making changes and getting everyone on board,” Bashant said.

One argument holds that a shift to later start times would be eased for individual districts if a larger number of districts made the move at the same time, facilitating widespread scheduling changes. But districts also fiercely hold their independent decision making powers, and every district operates at its own pace.

Advocates of later start times argue that hurdles don’t end up being as difficult as perceived and the benefits far outweigh any initial challenges. They emphasize the importance of consistent communication with all those involved.

“As long as they were communicating clearly with parents and the board of education, they were surprised how few barriers came up,” Bashant said of districts that have successfully moved to later start times.

The leaders of districts that have made the move remain strong supporters of later start times. In Glens Falls schools, limited bus use made the move slightly easier, but the district’s Superintendent Paul Jenkins has said the challenges were worth overcoming.

​“The biggest thing is that the benefits far outweigh the challenges…. The challenges we have are really adult challenges, they aren’t challenges for kids,” Jenkins said in a previous interview. “We are here to do what’s best for kids, and we know allowing them more time in the morning is going to be beneficial health-wise and academically.”

Schenectady moved its high school start time to 8:30 a.m. in the early stages of Superintendent Larry Spring’s tenure. Spring has said concerns over athletic scheduling have been manageable but that the more significant problems was creating after-school care challenges for families that had relied on an older sibling taking care of a younger sibling.

For Fraterrigo, who has served on the Guilderland school board for more than 20 years, it’s only a matter of time before high school students will be starting class a little bit later.

“I think it will happen, I fully believe it will happen,” Fraterrigo said. “Research study after research study is coming out and saying you are basically hurting kids by sticking to early start times for teens.”

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