Q: Why are you trying to change start times?
Many studies over the past couple of decades point to the unique sleep patterns of adolescents. Due to a late onset of melatonin, most teenagers and young adults do not feel tired until very late at night. While many attribute the “night owl” tendencies of teens to poor choices, the research shows that most adolescents simply cannot go to sleep earlier. These sleep patterns are not merely behavioral, but biological.
At SPPS, most of our middle and high schools currently begin the day at 7:30 a.m. Research suggests that school for teenagers should not begin before 8 a.m. Therefore, many school districts in the region and across the country are looking for better solutions for their secondary school students.
Q: How much will changing start times cost?
District staff will examine costs once a plan is decided upon and presented to the Board of Education.
Q: Is SPPS looking into a partnership with Metro Transit?
Johnson Senior High School and Creative Arts Secondary (grades 9-12) are the only traditional high schools that use public transportation (Metro Transit) instead of school buses. Metro Transit informed us in 2015 that it will not be able to expand service to additional high schools because of costs and lack of capacity at its East metro bus garage. Johnson Senior and Creative Arts Secondary use Metro Transit because of their central location to current Metro Transit routes. Gordon Parks High School, a non-traditional high school, has and will continue to use Metro Transit.
Still, SPPS has continued its work with Metro Transit to identify ways to expand the partnership. During the 2016 Minnesota legislative session, we participated in coordinated lobbying efforts with the City of St. Paul and Ramsey County in support of additional investments for Metro Transit to expand services for the East metro. Unfortunately, the legislature did not pass a transportation bill and Metro Transit still lacks the resources needed to expand its partnership with SPPS. Therefore, we must rely on achieving later start times for secondary schools using school buses.
Q: Why not move all schools to one or two start times?
After looking at many different factors, the transportation department believes we must continue to have three different school start times to provide adequate and high quality bus service. Each day we transport more than 30,000 students to more than 60 sites across the city. To reduce the number of buses on the road and manage costs, SPPS operates on a three-tier schedule with distinct school times: 7:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. To make the system most cost-effective, the transportation department must ensure a balanced schedule of buses for each start time. For example, one bus will do routes for three schools: one route for each start time. When we consider moving middle and high schools from their existing start times (7:30 a.m.), we must move a similar number of buses from a later start time to an earlier start time.
The district has explored other options, such as a schedule with only two start times. This would require more than 150 additional buses on the road, costing the district more than $8 million. More buses on the road also means hiring more bus drivers, who are in critically short supply.
Q: If secondary students benefit from later school start times, why would some secondary schools still start early?
Several years ago, Washington Technology (6-12) added an extra hour to its school day to extend learning time and improve academics. The change has proven successful. Its current hours of 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. would remain unchanged in order to end the day with other secondary schools. This is ideal for clubs, athletics and other after-school activities.
Q: My family is worried about the additional childcare that will be needed. What kind of childcare options will be available?
We know childcare will be one of the top challenges for families. We are working to make sure families have access to childcare with a wide range of cost options. Extended Day for Learning (EDL) and Discovery Club staff are working to gather information on how their programs can expand to meet the needs of families. SPPS is also exploring programs offered by the City of St. Paul and other community partners. We will update families as information becomes available. We believe we can find some solutions for many of these challenges by fall 2018.
Q. It seems like the decision is being rushed. What about community feedback?
SPPS completed an extensive engagement and feedback initiative for Rethinking School Start Times during the 2013-14 school year. A community steering committee of parents, school staff, district administrators, and internal and external transportation experts, was convened to provide a recommendation on changing school start times. After several months of reviewing research and exploring options for the district, the committee proposed a scenario to move all secondary schools to 8:30 a.m. with elementary schools starting at 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. SPPS received feedback from thousands of parents, students, and staff online and through community meetings.
Opinions were divided. Many parents of secondary students are in favor of later start times. Many parents of elementary students are equally opposed to changing school start times. Ultimately, the steering committee recommended no change to the current start times structure, and the Board voted to follow that recommendation, directing administration to continue the discussion.
In the fall of 2015, district staff again proposed several options for changing school start times for the 2016-17 school year, but recommended no change, in part because of the short lead time. The Board agreed but asked staff to continue preparing for an eventual start time change.
During the Board of Education meeting on Dec. 13, 2016, the Board voted to direct staff to develop a plan to change school start times, beginning with implementation in the 2018-19 school year. A survey was available from October to December preceeding the vote and showed much of the same concerns and challenges as found in previous community outreach efforts.