Durham News

Durham school board votes to push high school start times back

High school students will get to sleep an hour-and-a-half later in the 2016-17 school year following a Thursday night vote by the Durham Public Schools Board of Education.

The board voted unanimously to push back start times for most high schools from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. The high school day will end at 4 p.m.

Under the change, most middle schools’ days will run from 7:30 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. Elementary schools will be tiered, with schools running from 7:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.; 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Most middle schools currently start at 7:30 a.m. Elementary schools start at 9 a.m.

School board members said while the option isn’t perfect for all students and parents, it’s a step toward improving student achievement by allowing high school students to sleep later.

“It is with the understanding that this board sees this as a medium-size step towards the ideal schedule,” said board Chair Heidi Carter. “In the meantime, we will begin looking for identifying additional sources of funding,” or creating efficiencies in the system to put middle school students on a later start schedule as well.

In November board members set a goal of starting middle and high schools no earlier than 8 a.m. by the 2016-17 school year. The move seeks to improve student achievement after research showed adolescents tend to go bed later but perform better with nine hours of sleep.

The board needed to make the decision by August for school staff to start working out all the details for next school year, said Scott Denton, assistant superintendent of auxiliary services.

Next steps include communicating the changes to principals and teachers and working with different departments to address and plan for changes to after-school, athletics and other programs, Denton said. All the details need to be worked out, Denton said, by the annual magnet school fair in January.

After months of discussions, board members had narrowed their focus to five options. Puzzling together reasonable and affordable bus schedules while trying not to disrupt successful magnet school schedules were the major hurdles. The more ideal option of pushing both middle and high school times back would have cost the system at least $454,000.

During the public hearing, board members heard a range of views. High school parents and students said they supported the change. Parents and students from elementary, middle and magnet schools affected by the change expressed concerns about being able to adjust their work routines and their children’s after-school activities to meet earlier start times and later dismissals.

After the public hearing, board members had a lengthy discussion in which they considered postponing the vote to take more community input, rallying county commissioners to give them more money so they could afford later start times for middle schools, and passing a general option and tightening the start times and schedule later.

After hearing from school staff that the schedule had been explored thoroughly and urging from board members Carter, Mike Lee, Leigh Bordley and Sendolo Diaminah to move forward, the board ultimately voted unanimously to support the change it had been considering for years.

Bordley said other communities have worked through the issues presented at the meeting.

“They have realized these amazing benefits that I want for our community,” she said. “If we can just work through the pain of this, we are all going to be so happy with the results.”

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges

In other business

Also Thursday night, the Durham Public Schools Board of Education voted to:

▪ Extend Superintendent Bert L’Homme’s contract by one year to 2019.

▪ Adjust the grading scale for middle and high schools from a seven-point scale to a 10-point scale starting this school year.

The change, which means a 90 percent to 100 percent score equals an A and a 4.0 grade point average in standard classes, follows a change to state law requiring all school districts to implement a 10-point scale in high schools to standardize the grading system across the state.

▪ Suspend the driver’s education program on Monday, Aug. 31, amid uncertainty about state funding this school year. The vote comes as school districts across the state are operating under a temporary state spending plan that includes no funding for driver’s education.