Edmonds School Board exploring later start times for schools

EDMONDS — For the Edmonds School Board, it’s a question of time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends later starting times for high school and middle school students. The problem in the school district is getting more than 21,000 kindergarten through 12th grade students to and from their classrooms without creating logistical and scheduling headaches for students, staff and families.

A task force spent months looking into the issue and reviewed results of an online survey of more than 6,300 students, staff, families and others living in the community. It has come up with four options, and recommended moving starting times 25 minutes later than they now are. For high school students, that would mean beginning at 7:45 a.m. instead of 7:20 a.m.

Although the 25-minute-later option doesn’t meet the 8:30 a.m. recommendation of the pediatrics association, it would be a move in that direction.

“Some said it was a baby step,” said Patrick Murphy, Edmonds assistant superintendent for secondary schools.

Yet even a baby step could be a tough sell.

One problem in making school schedule changes involves transportation for the 8,000 students who ride school buses. It also would complicate scheduling for after-school sports. A 3:10 p.m. dismissal time, for example, might cause athletes to miss fifth and sixth periods to compete against districts with earlier start times.

Many people believe a change would be too difficult for students attending some of the district’s elementary and K-8 schools. For some, the school day wouldn’t end until 4:15 p.m.

More than 150 people showed up to an Edmonds School Board meeting this week. Nearly 30 testified. Many objected.

Mother and daughter Angie and Haley Karlberg served on the time task force. Both say they prefer maintaining the status quo.

“I’m in favor of leaving it alone for the time being,” said Angie Karlberg, an office manager at Terrace Park School. “I think it is worth talking about again, but not changing anything in the meantime.”

Haley Karlberg is a freshman at Meadowdale High School. She prefers the early start because it leaves more time for homework as well as for young people to work or participate in sports and extracurricular activities.

At the same time, she acknowledges that many of her classmates look tired in the morning. She said she is fortunate. She lives close to the high school and can wake up at 6:30 a.m. and be in her seat at school by the 7:20 a.m. bell. Many of her classmates have to wake up between 5:30 and 6:15 a.m.

Students are aware the issue is being discussed, she said.

“Everybody is kind of like murmuring about it, what they want,” she said.

There were 930 students who responded to the online survey. Middle and high school students listed the 25-minute-later-start as either their first or second choice among the four options. Forty-one percent of students listed keeping the existing early start time as their least favorite option while 31 percent said that is the best choice.

The pediatric association wrote that “a substantial body of research has now demonstrated that delaying school start times is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss and has a wide range of potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety and academic achievement.”

The Edmonds School Board will not rush its decision. It sent a letter to that effect to school district families Thursday.

“This is a very complex issue with no easy solution,” the board and Superintendent Kristine McDuffy wrote. “There will be no change for the 2017-18 school year. As a board, we will continue to discuss and explore options moving forward, including expanding public engagement into the process.”

Edmonds isn’t the only district that has been looking for ways to start classes later for older students.

The Northshore School District plans to have high school start at 7:45 a.m. beginning next year. In Bellingham, high schools are scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. next year and in Seattle, high schools moved to an 8:45 a.m. start time this year.

For more information about Edmonds start time discussions, go to: http://www.edmonds.wednet.edu/Page/13798.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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