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Chester County Press

U-CF School Board approves delayed school start time for 2018-2019 year

04/25/2017 09:41AM ● By J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

It took three years of study, but the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District is now the first in Pennsylvania to adopt a later school start time, based on extensive research that shows adolescents learn better when they are not required to begin classes before 8 a.m.

At the school board's April 24 meeting at Hillendale Elementary School, board member Carolyn Daniels made a motion to approve a plan to start and end high school and middle schools 25 minutes later, and to start and end the elementary schools 15 minutes later. Under the new schedule, middle school and high school will start at 8 a.m. and last until 2:43 p.m. (the current schedule is 7:35 a.m. to 2:18 p.m.). Elementary schools will start at 9:10 a.m. and last until 3:40 p.m. (the current schedule is 8:55 a.m. to 3:25 p.m.).

Board member Jeff Hellrung traced the history of the proposal. “Since 2014 there has been an increasing chorus of pleas from our doctors and sleep experts that our teens start their school days no later than 8:30 a.m.,” Hellrung said. “They all have identified early school start times as a major contributor to a public health crisis caused by widespread adolescent sleep deprivation. Hundreds of schools in most states across our country have already heeded this expert advice and delayed school start times to promote student health. A group of Unionville High School students studied this proposal and came to our board president three years ago, recommending later start times for their school.

“The proposal that we'll vote on tonight is a result of excellent community work,” Hellrung continued. “It's not ideal. It delays our high school and middle school start times by 25 minutes. Our committee thought that an 8:30 start would be so disruptive to so many constituencies that our community would never accept it. I'm hopeful that other school districts will follow U-CF. We fully engaged our community. Our community was split on the proposal. Survey results showed a majority of parents in favor, but a majority of staff and students opposed. We received many reasonable comments on both sides of the issue.

“Change can be disruptive. The benefits of the proposal come at a cost for some,” Hellrung said. “But for those who have studied this issue the most, the benefits to our students are well worth the cost.”

Board member Tom Day added, “I have reflected on comments made against this proposal by students, parents and staff. I am confident that their voices have been heard. I know that this board took that input very seriously. I am mindful of the impact this decision may have on school activities, on work schedules of parents and teachers, and for our student athletes, their classmates and teachers. In the end, though, I believe the most important focus should be on student wellness. Delaying school by 25 minutes for our adolescents is an imperfect solution, but at least it's a step forward in what I hope will be a multi-year journey.”

Board member Gregg Lindner, speaking by phone, was the lone dissenting member, saying, “I do not disagree with a 25-minute change in the start time of the middle school and high school, but I think it should go into effect in the 2018-2019 school year. That would better allow everyone to adjust for the change.”

Lindner proposed an amendment to the resolution, delaying the rollout for a year, but there was no second from the board.

The school start time recommendation was approved, 8-1, for the upcoming school year.

Board member Elise Anderson commented, “It's been almost a year that I've been involved on the committee for this, and I appreciate all the conversations within the board, the committees and the community. I ask that the administration continue to diligently listen as we proceed, and be nimble as we identify any possible problems and solutions as we go forward with this.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Hellrung commented, “It's rare for our district to be the first in the area, and I think first in the state, on something like this. That's not in our DNA. But what is in our DNA is a relentless focus on the well-being of our students and our community. Without the superintendent's leadership from the beginning, there wouldn't have been a chance of this happening.”

Hellrung also credited assistant superintendent John Nolen for persevering on the issue and seeing it to its resolution.
The meeting video, and other information related to school district issues, is available at www.ucfsd.org.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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