USD497 District considers pushing school start times back

By Nadia Sanburn, Assistant Online Editor

It’s a simple fact that most kids don’t like waking up early in the morning. Every week day, students in Lawrence wake up early to drag themselves to school without much sleep, often catching up on their lost sleep in class, wasting valuable teaching time.

Currently, start times for the high schools and middle schools are 8:05am. However, high school students have an extra hour to sleep on Wednesdays, when start time is 9:05.

Not only are kids sleepier, but studies have been done that show it hurts their brains, too. According to the CDC, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. The CDC says “During puberty, adolescents become sleepy later at night and need to sleep later in the morning as a result in shifts in biological rhythms.”

Growing teens need extra sleep, and it’s hard to get the extra hours when their brains are hardwired against that.

After looking at data similar to this, Lawrence Public Schools decided to take steps towards seeing if this would be the right fit for this school district.

USD497 has put together a committee to help decide if pushing back start times would be right for Lawrence Public Schools. Rick Ingram, a USD497 School Board member as well as being in the committee, is a strong advocate for later start time.

“Each year since 2014 we have seen numerous districts make this change, with more making it every year. Lawrence would be the first district in this region of Kansas to make the changes, but I predict that we won’t be the last.”

The group is committed to deciding what the best option is for Lawrence Public Schools.

“It is composed of about 25 people and includes teachers and high school administrators, representatives of various groups, and parents,” said Ingram.

The committee has mostly narrowed it down to a few options: staying the same, pushing the school schedule to 8:30am to 3:35pm, and pushing it back even further to 9am to 4:05pm.

Recently, an online survey was sent out to middle and high school students, staff, and parents. Although there were some mistakes with rollout, the survey eventually made it into the proper hands, and the data was collected.

Out of the 683 high school students that answered the specific question concerning start times, 46.41% answered that they would like to see a change, while 36.46% said they’d like to leave things as they are now. 8.78% said they had no preference, or weren’t sure. Of the students who wanted a change, 26.35% wanted the schedule to be 8:30am to 3:35pm, and 20.06% wanted it to be 9am to 4:05pm.

Middle school students, of which there were 668, had 51.94% asking for a change, 30.24% who wanted no change, and 9.88% who either had no preference or didn’t know. Out of them, 29.04% liked the idea of 8:30am to 3:35pm, and the other 22.90% preferred 9am to 4:05pm.

Out of the 1,341 parents, 52.28% wanted the schedule to change, and 44.23% either didn’t want a change or didn’t have a preference. Of those, 26.40% of parents wanted the 8:30am to 3:35pm schedule, and 25.88% of them wanted it to be 9am to 4:05pm.

High School staff had 247 answers, which had 57.09% of them wanting things to stay the same or having no preference, and 32.79% who wanted the start time to change. 16.60% wanted the 8:30am to 3:35pm, and 16.19% wanted the 9am to 4:05pm.

Ingram is optimistic based on the results of the survey.

“What I can tell you is that, based on our surveys, more parents want to make a change than do not and majorities of both high school and middle schools want to make a change,” he said. “Along with the research evidence, I hope this will be persuasive.”

Although he admits the change to the schedule may cause some unrest, Ingram is hopeful in the long run.

“As with every change, some adjustments will need to be made, but in the numerous districts that have made this change, students and parents have been able to adjust,” said Ingram. “There will be a transition period, but after that, 8:30 or 9:00 will simply become what’s normal.”

Being a member of the School Board, Ingram was elected to put students first.

“My job is to do what is in the best interests of all kids, and I will always try to make decisions that are based on this, and based on the research evidence,” he said. “In this case, the evidence is very clear.”

Ingram believes the current school start time is harming students, and needs to be changed.

“At 8:05 am students may be sitting in a chair, but their brain is not yet fully awake,” said Ingram. “That’s a real disservice to our students.”