Last school year, Ann Rebeck lived through two different morning routines.
Her youngest daughter, Lena Angrist, started sixth grade at Durham School of the Arts, where school begins at 8:45 a.m.
“She was alert, she was lively, and she was conversational,” she said. “I could definitely imagine her in her first period of class being ready to learn.”
The morning routine was very different with her other daughter, Stella Angrist, a rising junior at Jordan High, which starts at 7:30 a.m.
“You drop somebody off who is like barely awake, has not said two words to you, has just gotten her clothes on, and packed her bag the night before,” Rebeck said.
The Durham Public Schools Board of Education is trying to help students like Stella. It has an August deadline to make a decision that could affect more than 33,000 students.
Most middle and high schools in the Durham Public Schools now start at 7:30 a.m., while elementary schools start at 9 a.m. While the board has discussed pushing back start times for years, in November members set a goal of starting middle and high schools no earlier than 8 a.m. by the 2016-17 school year.
Nearly eight months later, the board must now narrow its options, or risk not having enough school buses when school starts in August 2016.
The school bus acquisition process is long, said Scott Denton, assistant superintendent of auxiliary services. To guarantee that a bus is delivered by the start of school in 2016-17, Denton said the board needs to make a decision by August.
School officials presented three options to the school board last month:
▪ Start all schools 30 minutes later.
This option would not cost any more money. But it would reduce time for after-school activities, and some school officials have concerns about later start times for elementary school students.
▪ Flip start times so elementary schools open first, followed by high and middle schools.
This would reduce the need for before-school care and provide additional time for buses to arrive at schools on time. The disadvantages include a $454,400 increase in transportation costs, older siblings not being home in time to care for younger siblings, safety concerns about elementary students waiting for morning buses in the dark and interruptions to after-school activities. The option only partially satisfies the 8 a.m. goal as Durham School of the Arts and The School for Creative Studies would be moved to a 7:30 start time to meet busing challenges.
▪ Start middle schools early. Start high schools later, and stagger elementary schools. A second version of this option includes lengthening the school day to seven hours a day for all schools, which has an associated cost of $227,000.
The first version of this option would cost no more money. But both would keep middle school students on a 7:30 a.m. start time and get older siblings home after their younger brothers and sisters. Officials are also concerned about the impact on after-school activities and later start times for some elementary school.
School Board member Mike Lee likes flipping start times to give older students later start times.
His wife likes starting all schools 30 minutes later.
“We try not to talk much about it at home,” he said.
They have three children: Nicholas is a rising third-grader and the twins will start kindergarten in the 2016-17 school year.
Lee likes the flip because he’s read the research that says adolescents perform better with nine hours of sleep and still remembers what it’s like to be a teenager and not being able to go to bed early.
Lee’s wife, Erin, likes pushing all start times back so elementary school children don’t have to stand at the bus stop in the dark.
PTA work group
Rebeck, the mother with daughters at DSA and Jordan High, is also president of the Durham Council of PTAs, which formed a work group to explore the start-time issue.
Rebeck said the group hasn’t endorsed an option yet, but thinks the school board needs to do more than just push start times back a half-hour.
“I think we feel the 30-minute option was more of a Band-Aid, and we would rather look more closely at some of the other options that Scott (Denton) put forward,” she said.
The resolution the board passed in November noted that organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics all say adolescents need an average of nine hours of sleep for optimal performance.
“Most teens experienced delayed onset of sleep during puberty, and the hormones that regulate sleep make it difficult for teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m. and be alert before 8 a.m.,” the resolution states.
After the November vote, school officials did a survey; held community meetings at Hillside and Northern high schools; visited four high schools, six middle schools and eight elementary schools; and met with the Teacher Advisory Council.
Like the PTA work group, the school board has not identified a clear favorite.
But Lee and board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said they are confident they will reach a decision in time.
“If there is a decision that has to be made in August, it will be made,” Lee said. “There is a lot of talking and discussing back and forth and things, but when a decision has to be made, we are very good at making those decisions.”
What do other systems do?
Orange County Schools: elementary – 7:55 a.m. to 2:50 p.m.; middle school – 8:20 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.; high school – 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.;
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools: elementary – 7:50 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; middle school – 8:20 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.; high school – 8:45 a.m. to 3:50 p.m.
Wake County Public Schools uses a three-tier system meaning buses take two or three runs to different schools in the morning and afternoon, which results in spread out school times. High schools generally begin from 7:20 a.m. to 8:05 a.m and end from 2:13 p.m. to 3 p.m. Middle schools generally start between 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and end from 2:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.. Elementary schools generally start between 7:45 a.m. to 9:25 a.m. and end from 2:20 .p.m. to 3:50 p.m.
Which would you choose?
Which option for school start times would you pick? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org or with this story online and we’ll print your comments next week.