Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why are you changing start times?
Several studies in recent decades point to the unique sleep patterns of adolescents. Due to 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 have moved to later start times for their secondary school students.
Q. How are you planning to help families with the start times changes?
Since 2013, SPPS has gathered feedback from the community through surveys, community meetings and targeted outreach. This input has helped identify three main challenges:
- The safety of elementary students as they travel to school earlier in the morning
- Childcare options
- Scheduling of athletics facilities
The following subcommittees have been created to help provide options and support for staff, schools, families, and community and city partners.
The safety subcommittee will work to support elementary students as they travel to school that has a new start time of 7:30 a.m. They will study safety of bus stops and travel paths and make recommendations to support students and families.
The childcare subcommittee will help families find new childcare options. They will analyze current childcare locations and capacity of existing providers. The information will help develop options specific to each elementary school.
The athletics subcommittee will assess scheduling challenges resulting from later dismissal of secondary schools. The group will identify game and practice space for the district’s sports team. They will also propose guidelines for scheduling that keeps student athletes in the classroom as long as possible.
Q: Why not move all schools to one or two start times?
After looking at many different factors, the SPPS transportation department believes three different school start times are necessary so the district can provide 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 move 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.
A start times steering committee 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. The committee recommended the most cost-effective approach, which is to keep three different start times.
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. A childcare committee is working to help families find new childcare options. SPPS staff from Discovery Club, Extended Day for Learning (EDL) and Family Engagement are working with staff from programs offered by the City of St. Paul and other organizations that serve our students. The committee’s work will include a detailed analysis of current childcare locations and capacity of existing providers. The information will help develop options specific to each elementary school...
Q. How was the community involved in the decision-making process?
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 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 fall 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 preceding the vote and showed much of the same concerns and challenges as found in previous community outreach efforts.
In February and March of 2017, a new community start times steering committee was tasked with developing a plan for restructuring start times.
The committee reviewed sleep research and community feedback, explored options for changing school start times and examined budget, family and transportation challenges. By incorporating what they learned, the group of parents, teachers, students, and staff reviewed and developed more than a dozen new possible start time scenarios.
The group narrowed the field down to two options that had the least impact on families and the budget, while aligning with sleep and school start times research.
In September 2017, district administrators presented a plan to change school start times beginning with the 2019-20 school year. This timeline aligned with potential program changes resulting from a new strategic plan and will provide families more time to prepare. The Board of Education voted to approve the plan during its October 2017 board meeting.