Niskayuna High School students are one step closer to a later school start time after the school board Tuesday directed administrators to work out the details of an 8:30 a.m. start time beginning in September 2020.
While it’s still not clear what time the school day will end, how class schedules will be changed, how athletic practices and games will be impacted, and the implications for student transportation, board members appeared ready to move forward with the start time recommended by the nation’s pediatricians.
“We can do this today,” said board President Howard Schlossberg, adding that if other districts in the region also moved to a later start time, it would ease some of the challenges posed by finishing school later in the day.
The board’s directive for the superintendent to iron out the specifics of an 8:30 a.m. high school start time came after a comprehensive presentation from parent Deanna Bouton, who co-chaired a committee who studied the pros and cons of moving the start time.
The committee, which adopted the 8:30 a.m. start time recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics, analyzed the myriad challenges still facing the district as it sets to plan for a later start time: What time to end the day and how to schedule classes during the day so as not to lose student instruction time? How to plan for athletic practices and games, limiting lost instruction time and accounting for limited daylight? How to change the district transportation plan, which now revolves around a 7:40 a.m. high school start?
Aside from the benefits expected by giving high school students extra sleep time in the morning, shifting the high school start later in the morning eases headaches caused by the middle schools’ use of the high school for morning band practice. Now, middle school band students arrive at the high school at the same time as the high school students, exacerbating traffic problems. And with the middle school students using the high school band space, the high school music program loses out on use of the space at the start of the day.
A later start time, though, could create complications for district officials. Student athletes leaving school for sporting events may miss out on more classroom instruction than under the current 2:45 p.m. dismissal. And afterschool clubs may be impacted if shifting meetings even later in the day complicates the ability to find sponsors and advisers. Traffic on Balltown Road may also be affected by the high school starting later in the morning and letting out later in the afternoon.
The start time committee outlined three potential options for shifting the start time, with end times ranging from 3:10 p.m. to 3:35 p.m. The committee suggested shaving one minute off of the current five-minute passing time between classes and squeezing a shortened homeroom into another class in order to shorten the overall school day while minimizing the loss of instruction time.
Bouton told the school board the different options weren’t recommendations but rather a demonstration that there are different ways to set a schedule for an 8:30 a.m. start.
“We are presenting this not as a recommendation for a particular schedule but to show there are many different flavors to look at,” she said.
Bouton, and some board members, also suggested Niskayuna advocate for other districts in the Suburban Council to shift to later high school start times, which would even out some problems posed by afterschool sports and later school end times.
A change in the high school start time has gained momentum in Niskayuna in recent years as officials acknowledged the research supporting a later start time and students pressed the case in capstone school projects. Students who favor the later start times have pointed to research that shows that adolescent circadian rhythms shift later in the day around the time they start high school, making the earliest part of the school day a physiological challenge for many students.
“We are setting them up to fail,” then-junior Sara Anderson said during a presentation on start times in May 2018.