School Board to make final decision on school start times

Poll shows majority of students' families support changes

Posted: Monday, May 04, 2009

The Juneau School Board is poised to make its final decision Tuesday on whether or not to shuffle school start times around in the fall.

The administration has proposed shifting high school start times 75 minutes later to 9:15 a.m., middle school start times 30 minutes earlier to 8 a.m., and elementary school times up to 75 minutes earlier to 8 a.m.

School days at every level would be about six and a half hours long. That's not a change for middle and elementary schools, but reclaims some time lost at the high school level caused by past bus scheduling changes.

The School Board's final decision is expected at its next regular meeting on Tuesday. The meeting begins at 6:15 p.m. at Juneau-Douglas High School.

For the most part, parents and board members' concerns have been focused not on the academic and instructional merits the changes are expected to bring about - decades of scientific research has shown that early high school start times run contrary to teenagers' later-waking sleep cycles that are brought on by hormonal changes - but on secondary issues, such as scheduling effects on after school jobs, sports and activities, or the coddling argument.

For example, School Board member Ed Flanagan said at an April 21 board work session on the topic that he was concerned that "mollycoddling" high schoolers would set them up for trouble in the work world.

Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling said the coddling argument played a role in killing the district's last push to change high school start times. She said the expectation of students ought to be on time no matter what that time is.

At least two attempts to start high school later have failed in the past, though Scandling said a better understanding in the public of teen brain function means the effort has had more traction this time around.

Results from a recent telephone poll of families with children in the school system back that up. The Anchorage polling firm Hellenthal & Associates conducted a telephone poll last month of 602 randomly selected families with children in the school district that included three questions related to the proposed schedule changes, broken up by high schools, middle schools and elementary schools.

A majority of respondents to all three questions favored the changes. The margins were especially wide for elementary and middle schools, with respondents in favor at a more than a 2-1 ratio. The spread for high schools was about 13 points.

At the April 21 work session, board member Destiny Sargeant characterized much of the opposition as a natural resistance to change.

"We get locked into a schedule like hamsters on a wheel," she said. "People will adjust."

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail

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