Parents, teachers, Board Members share concerns about 25-minute delay proposal

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The Edmonds School Board meeting room was full of parents and teachers, who shared their concerns about a 25-minute school delay proposal Tuesday night.

A crowd of more than 100 parents and school district staff members filled the Edmonds School Board meeting room on Tuesday night, anxious to hear an update on the proposal to shift all school start times to 25 minutes later than the current schedule.

School Board President Susan Phillips told the crowd that this is the first time the Board was hearing the proposal, and emphasized that no decision would be made Tuesday.

“This is just the beginning for our discussions, and it’s a chance for us to ask questions,” she said. “I don’t want people to feel anxious that we are foraging ahead without having the discussions we need to have.”

The report given Tuesday follows months of research and discussions by the High School Start Times Task Force, which began meeting in October 2016 to look at options to shift high school start times to a later time. The task force was created after several studies had shown better student performance at the high school level if kids start classes later. Several other local districts, including the Seattle School District, have also recently shifted school start times to allow high school students to sleep in a little later.

However, shifting start times for the Edmonds School District would have to impact elementary and middle schools, primarily to accommodate transportation. The High School Start Times Task Force ultimately came up with four possible solutions, which were then presented to the community in an online survey, which was available in several languages. More than 6,000 students, staff, families and community members responded to the survey, but there was no clear favorite among them, with the highest-ranked option receiving 29 percent of votes and the lowest-ranked option receiving 23 percent.

The task force then debated which option to bring forward to the Board, and selected the overall 25 minute shift.

Parents and staff members at the board meeting on March 14 said their issues with the proposal were twofold: a 25-minute delay was not enough of a delay for high schoolers needing more sleep, and students in late-start elementary schools would suffer.

“Young brains wake up early,” Hazlewood kindergarten teacher Sara Hedges told the Board. Hazlewood Elementary is a late-start school. “It is our job to keep those kids engaged, but it’s a struggle.”

Jessica Norenberg, a teacher-librarian at Brier Elementary, said her students are already struggling to focus and stay awake at the end of the day.

“My littlest kids are falling asleep at 3 o’clock,” she said. “I really see this as the worst option for everybody. It doesn’t help our high school students and makes things much worse for students at our late-start elementary schools.”

Under the 25-minute delay proposal, late-start elementary schools would get out at 4:15 p.m. — which for many kids, would mean they wouldn’t get home until 4:45 p.m. or later. Though school district staff looked at ways of minimizing the impact to late-start elementary schools, it was ultimately determined that they would also have to be delayed by 25 minutes in order to minimize financial and transportation impacts.

Parents shared their concerns about needing to send their kids to morning daycare services in order to make it to work on time. Many parents said that morning time is the time that their kids are the most active, and were concerned about having that time spent either at home or at daycare instead of at school.

The later start also means kids will be getting home after it’s dark for a longer portion of the year. Kids may also be more likely to have to leave school early for appointments and lessons and other things that can usually happen after school for elementary students at early-start elementary schools.

The public comment section of the meeting lasted nearly two hours on Tuesday night, with all but one comment referencing concerns about the 25-minute delay proposal. The other comment was about an unrelated topic. No one spoke in favor of the proposal.

School board members had voiced similar concerns before public comment was taken.

“I don’t like the proposal because I don’t think you should have kids coming home at quarter of five in the afternoon,” Board Member Gary Noble said.

Board Member Diana White said there were several “deal breakers” for her in this proposal, because it would affect so many people negatively.

However, several board members and members of the public recognized the difficult job the High School Start Times Task Force faced.

“There were good reasons they came up with this recommendation,” Noble said. “Three-quarters of people didn’t like this recommendation. But then do nothing, three-quarters of people didn’t like that either. This is not a subject we should drop, but I don’t think these recommendations — none of them satisfy enough people to make them worth pursuing at this point in my opinion. It’s incredible that the committee came up with these four recommendations that everyone hated equally.”

No decision was made Tuesday, and school start times are not expected to change for the 2017-18 school year. The Edmonds School District and School Board are expected to release an email communication to families this week with a response to Tuesday’s meeting and a look at next steps.

–By Natalie Covate

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