Lawrence school board approves pushing back high school start times through 3-option plan

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Lawrence school board member Rick Ingram, left, discusses a plan to offer three different start times for Lawrence high schools as board member Shannon Kimball, right, listens during the board's meeting on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019.

Lawrence high school students will be able to start their school days later next school year, but they will not be required to do so.

Rather than pushing back the entire school day to begin at 9 a.m. and end at 4:05 p.m., which was originally under consideration, the school district administration proposed keeping the current 8:05 a.m. to 3 p.m. schedule as the high school’s standard schedule and adding a new option that allows students to begin their day at 9 a.m. if they want to.

Under the new plan, the students who begin their school day at 9 a.m. would also finish their school days at 3 p.m., resulting in them attending six class periods rather than seven. That would also allow the schools to keep their 7 a.m. “zero hour,” resulting in the high schools providing three different start times for students.

Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield said the proposed plan would be favorable over the original plan because it would allow the school to keep its current transportation services running for the 8 a.m. start time and allow students who prefer starting their day at 7 or 8 a.m. to continue to do so.

The board on Monday unanimously approved the proposal, which is scheduled to begin for the 2020-2021 school year, after a heated discussion and hearing comments from students. However, the board approved it with attached conditions.

One of the conditions includes researching how the six-period school day would affect the district’s state funding. If students take only six class periods, they would be about 12 minutes short of the required amount of class time for a student to be counted as a full-time student, Stubblefield said.

Board member Jessica Beeson said the district needs to make sure it can find a way for the students who start at 9 a.m. to still be full-time students — such as adding a few minutes to each of their classes or other options — or the plan would not be possible.

During public comment on the issue, many high school students spoke out against the change. They all argued that the real issue for students not getting enough sleep is the amount of homework. Several said they often stay up until 4 a.m. doing homework.

But those students also said they didn’t realize the board would offer a flexible option through the three start times. Some said they may be supportive of it, but they still worried about how the change may affect elective classes, such as orchestra or band.

Laurie Folsom, a journalism teacher at Free State High School, said she understood the student’s concerns. She said the status quo of the student’s school day is a problem because stress and depression among students is visibly rising.

Although Folsom said she would not advocate or oppose the plan to implement three different start times, she said that those who are discussing the issue — the students and the school board — need to realize it is not a one-solution problem. She said changing the start times would be a piece of addressing the issues that students are facing, but more still needs to be done.

“We need less homework … and some adjustment to our schedule,” she said.

The school district has been investigating for several years the issue of students starting later in the morning so that they could be better rested.

In other business, the board approved joining a lawsuit against Juul, a large e-cigarette producer. The lawsuit aims to recoup money the district says it has spent on education, enforcement and monitoring to minimize vaping at school.

The district will not pay any attorney fees unless it recovers money as a result of the lawsuit, according to the approved contract.

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