High School Start Times Advisory Committee
In February 2018, the Lawrence USD 497 Board of Education recommended a year of planning and fully engaging students, parents, and staff through surveys, meetings, and focus groups regarding changing the high school start times from 8:05 to 8:30 am to promote health and academic benefits for students associated with getting additional sleep.
In May 2018, it was determined a High School Advisory would be created, as a temporary committee pursuant to board policy BBC, to further investigate and discuss feedback from a broad cross-section of our school community. The committee will be in place for the 2018-2019 school year. The committee’s charge is to make a recommendation to our school board by January 2019 regarding implementation for 2019-20 school year. This group will meet 1-2 times per month and will be provided a virtual option to participate when members cannot attend.
On June 25, 2018, the board of education approved creating the High School Start Time Advisory Council as a temporary board committee pursuant to board policy BBC, with the duties and general membership as outlined. The committee consists of two board members, Deputy Superintendent, Director of Secondary Support, two high school building level administrators, 7-8 certified staff, 7 parents of children attending LPS, and one representative from District Site Council, Boys & Girls Club, DELTA, Equity Advisory Council, Special Education Parent Advisory Council and Student Advisory.
*Christina Holt, Associate Director, Center for Community Health and Development, Life Span Institute, University of Kansas is the lead facilitator for this committee.
On November 25, 2019, the school board discussed considerations for implementing later high school start times beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. The board charged the current High School Start Times Committee with developing a plan for the later start to support students in getting more sleep and improving their general health, well-being, and school success. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends schools start after 8:30 a.m. Late-start research cites that additional sleep decreases risk factors for youth, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, tardiness, and absenteeism.
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Anna Stubblefield said that a committee first studied later start times in 2015-2016, including surveying staff, students, and school families. Since that time, two additional committees have studied the issue. In the most recent survey, the majority of students in grades 8-11 who participated reported that they would enroll in, and would not require transportation for, a zero hour. Most teachers surveyed said they would be willing to teach during zero hour, which meets an hour earlier than the start of school. Nearly 450 students currently take a zero hour at 7:00 a.m. The existing high school schedule is 8:00 a.m.-3:10 p.m. The committee studied an 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. school start.
“My perception of this is that we keep kicking the can down the road,” said board member Rick Ingram. “I think we need to move on this.”
Dr. Stubblefield said that First Student, the district’s transportation services provider, estimates that costs associated with later start times would vary from a more than $281,000 increase for an 8:30 start to a savings of $109,000 with a 9:00 start. If the district were to provide busing for zero hour (It currently does not.), First Student estimates that would cost an additional $145,000. Other considerations for implementation cited by the committee include staffing needs, substitute teacher costs, student enrollment, activity transportation costs, requiring some staff to teach earlier or later than they desire, lost instructional time for student-athletes, and impacts on the schedules of students who work or provide childcare to siblings after school.
Dr. Stubblefield added that since Free State High School is in a planning year as part of the Apollo School Redesign Project, its staff is already discussing ways to provide students flexibility, such as by offering online courses. Redesign plans will not be finalized until May.
“This is a bold step Lawrence can take to provide students more choice and flexibility in schedules,” said board vice president Kelly Jones.
The board directed the administration to bring to its next meeting on December 9 a motion for a vote and a plan for the implementation of a 9:00 a.m. high school start for the 2020-2021 school year.
“I want our high schools to make students aware of this decision in December,” said Kimball. “I don’t want our students surprised.”
On December 9, 2019, after hearing from several students and staff members about concerns with the proposal for later high school start times, the board voted unanimously to maintain the current start times and to add an option for a 9:00 a.m. start to a six-period day, as long as it meets the funding requirement of 360 minutes/day for a full-time student. This assurance would prevent a loss in funding.
“I have been a part of this conversation for three years, and what is clear to me is that students want options,” said Dr. Anna Stubblefield, deputy superintendent. She added that if the dismissal time stays the same, at 3:00 p.m., students choosing the 9:00 a.m. start would be committing to taking a full six-period day schedule to earn the number of credits required for graduation.
“It (the 9:00 option) would be really good for kids. Allowing them to take fewer classes is going to be really positive,” said Rick Ingram, the board member who championed the high school late-start proposal due to research about the health benefits of more sleep on the brain development of young people.
Amy Landwehr, a member of the Free State High Redesign Team, shared with the board that providing flexible options would not preclude the team from doing its work. She added that she thought eliminating the current 7:00 a.m. zero hour would limit the team’s plans.
“I like the flexibility because there were family hardship stories that we heard with being boxed in with only a 9:00 start,” said Jill Fincher, board member. “I like the idea of students designing their own day.”
Several students shared with the board that their stress levels and lack of sleep are the results of heavy course loads and a large amount of homework. Board member Kelly Jones echoed students’ concerns about mental health and homework assignments. Jones does not support the current 7:00 a.m. zero hour.
“The spirit of the board right now is to respond to the community to allow choice,” said Jones. “I still want the rigor. I still want students working hard but we need to do it smarter.”
Recommendation to the USD 497 Lawrence Public Schools School Board (1/14/2018)
After six months of study and gathering input from focus groups and through surveys of students, parents, and staff, the school board’s High School Start Time Advisory Committee affirmed the benefits of later school starts times – that more sleep leads to positive effects on student attendance, academics, and health and wellbeing. It also found that most students and parents providing feedback prefer a later start time, while high school staff favor no change.
Survey results showed that 46% of high school students and 52% of middle school students favored later start times for school. While 51% of parents preferred later start times, 51% of high school staff members favored sticking with current start times: zero hour at 7 a.m. and school starts at 8:05 a.m.
The advisory committee recommended that the board establish another committee to discuss broader options. These include staggered start times, high school redesign, extended school year to enable a later start time without a later dismissal time, and the addition of high school seminar period. The committee recommended implementation in the fall of 2020.
Board president Jessica Beeson thanked the committee members for their work and suggested the board clarify in a motion for board approval that it intends to establish an implementation committee and develop a detailed plan for changing high school start times in August of 2020.
Board officers will meet with the superintendent and deputy superintendent to tweak the language of the committee’s recommendation and develop such a motion for the board’s consideration at its January 28, 2019, meeting.
- The Committee's Recommendation presented to the school board on January 14, 2019.
- A copy of the committee's presentation
- A video of the presentation and the board's discussion (starts at 1:25:02.)
December 9, 2019, News Release: Board of Education HS Start Times Decision, Effective for the 2020-2021 School Year