Public input sought on delayed school start time
● By J. Chambless
By John Chambless
With a huge volume of data that says
letting adolescents sleep later can improve their school performance,
the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District is giving the public one
more chance to make their feelings known at an upcoming town hall
The issue was raised in 2015 by a student panel that approached the administration about pushing back school start times to better align with the natural sleep cycles of teens. Since then, there has been a district presentation by sleep expert Dr. Judith Owens, and committees have solicited input from other school districts across the nation that have moved to later start times and seen results in student alertness and achievement.
At a Feb. 13 meeting of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board, assistant superintendent John Nolen, who is serving on the committee studying the issue, told the board, “We're looking at a 25-minute shift in the school day. That would have middle and high school starting at about 8 a.m., and we feel we can get the elementaries to a 9:10 start and a 3:40 dismissal, which is about 15 minutes later on both ends.
“The cost of the plan would be between $30,000 and $40,000,” Nolen continued. “To make the bus runs in the afternoon, we have to possibly add some bus driver time on the runs. It's not adding new staff or new equipment, but increasing some of the drivers' time. So it's not an inexpensive plan, but it's not as expensive as some of the other plans that were floated out there.”
At the March 20 meeting of the school board, member Jeff Hellrung updated the district's process. “By delaying the high school and middle school start times by 25 minutes, it would be the least disruptive option” for families and schools, while giving teens more time to sleep in the morning, he said. “This would also involve a 15-minute delay for the elementary schools. During March, the administration is taking this recommendation to the community to get feedback. At the end of that process, the administration will consider their recommendation to the board for next year. It's still open to some adjustments based on feedback.”
In an email to parents that was sent last week and posted on the school district's website, the district laid out its findings so far:
“The pros and cons of starting schools later have been much debated by our stakeholders this month and we have received great, thoughtful feedback,” the message reads. “It's clear that most see the benefits of the the move. The scientific evidence is compelling, later school start times will result in health and wellness benefits for our students, the proposed new start times minimize disruption to stakeholders, and the costs are acceptable.
“However, it's also clear that there are concerns, and many in our community would need to make difficult adjustments if start times are changed,” the message continued. “The shift in time is especially difficult for working parents, the recommendation requires elementary schools to start even later, the later end times will "squeeze" after school activities and some students will miss more class time, and many question whether 25 minutes is enough of a shift to make it worth it.”
The community is invited to visit the School Start Time Committee website through www.ucfsd.org, which has posted all of the meeting minutes and resources used to make the recommendation. The page also has a Community Input Survey which visitors can fill out and send to the committee through the end of March.
Public presentations are scheduled March 23 at 9:15 a.m. as part of the Unionville High School PTO meeting, as well as open community meetings on March 23 at 7 p.m. at Hillendale Elementary School, and March 30 at 7 p.m. at Chadds Ford Elementary School.
At the School Board work session on April 17, the administration will announce its final recommendation about delayed start times. The School Board will then vote on the recommendation on April 24 at their regular meeting.
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