Start high school classes at 9 a.m.? Lawrence district is considering it

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence High students pass through the hallway on the east side of the school during the seventh hour changing period on Friday, April 7, 2017.

The Lawrence school district is set to conduct telephone and online surveys to find out what students, parents and staff think about starting high school classes later in the morning.

Lawrence Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said the surveys were being finalized and would be sent no later than Nov. 12 to all district parents of students from sixth through 12th grade, students in those grades and staff at Free State and Lawrence high schools. In addition, a phone survey of randomly selected parents will be conducted.

The board agreed in February to study later high school morning start times after phone and online surveys last school year showed wide support for the change among district parents and high school staff. Although the motive for studying a change was to allow teens to sleep later, any change to morning start times at the high schools would also be reflected in afternoon release times. Free State and Lawrence high schools currently start at 8:05 a.m. and release at 3:10 p.m.

Lawrence school board member Rick Ingram said a district committee, which he and fellow board member Jill Fincher lead, developed the surveys. The committee of parents, staff and administrators also will analyze survey results before making a recommendation to the board in December or January on whether the high school start and release times should be changed with the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

The surveys are part of the community engagement effort promised when the board agreed to study possible earlier start times at Lawrence and Free State high schools, Ingram said.

The district surveys will ask respondents if they prefer keeping the high school start time at 8:05 a.m. and release time at 3:10 p.m., changing them to 8:30 a.m. and 3:35 p.m., changing them to 9 a.m. and 4:05 p.m., or have no preference, Ingram said. They also ask a series of questions about the consequences of the changes.

“The survey is focused really heavily on challenges rather than the benefits, because we want to know what the challenges are and how significant they will be,” Ingram said.

Fincher said the committee discussed many possible issues associated with later start and release times. Those include issues for parents who drop children off before going to work or who have older high school children drop off and pick up younger siblings at elementary or middle schools; parents who have high school-aged children watch younger siblings after school; more missed class time for afternoon sports or activities; and the consequences on the work schedules of students with after-school jobs.

“I’m hoping we hear from one-parent households,” Fincher said. “I want to hear from as many people as possible about how later start and release times could inconvenience families. When you change start and release times, you affect students, parents, teachers, coaches and employers. It’s a pretty big net.”

Ingram, a University of Kansas psychology professor, has long advocated for later high school start times at board meetings, citing research that shows allowing teens to sleep later in the morning improves academic performance, while decreasing absenteeism, tardiness and drop-out rates. Ingram said research continues to show the importance of teens getting adequate sleep, pointing to a study led by Harvard Medical School instructor Matthew Weaver, which was published Oct. 1 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. That study says teens getting less than eight hours of sleep a night were more likely to have problems with such things as drinking, drug use and aggressive behavior, and were also at greater risk of suicide, he said.

Although he doesn’t dismiss concerns associated with changes in start and release times, Ingram said the board’s decision should be based on what is best for high school students.

“There are a lot of districts making this change because they recognize it is good for kids, and they seem to be able to work it out,” he said. “If we approve a change in December or January, it won’t go into effect until August. There’s plenty of time to plan.”

A change to later morning start times will cost the district an estimated $100,000 to $150,000 a year because of the need to lease more buses, Ingram said. The 9 a.m. start time option would cost less, he said.


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