Parents weigh in on Wayzata start time plan

Debate over school start times

WAYZATA, Minn.-- Wayzata School District parents crowded an auditorium to voice opinions about a plan that could give students at the state's largest high school more time to sleep.

The issue over who needs more sleep -- high school students or elementary students -- has become hotly debated as the district considers a proposal to swap school start times, pushing high school students later, and elementary students earlier.

Hundreds attended a listening session on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Wayzata Central Middle School to share their opposition or support before the school board. More than 1,500 parents have written into the district with concerns already.

"At 7:30 a.m., we are the earliest in our conference and probably within the metro," said Dr. Chace Anderson, Wayzata School District Superintendent, about the Wayzata High School start time.

Superintendent Anderson said the district has advocated for later school start times for teenagers and moved forward after feedback from parents, teachers, the community and studying the research.

Three different start time proposals are on the table. One plan, based on the district's research on starting high school later, would change the high school's current 7:30 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. That would also push some elementary schools from 9:10 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., and push middle school students later from 8:20 a.m. to 9:10 a.m. Two elementary schools in the Wayzata district start earlier already.

Superintendent Anderson acknowledges those changes might be tough on families, but the goal is to find a solution that works best for students overall.

"High school students and middle school students are naturally wired, if you will, to sleep in later in the morning. Elementary children are less impacted by the times, they are able to fall asleep and also generally reach a level of focus and alertness ready for learning early in the morning," said Dr. Anderson.

Parents of elementary students have organized in opposition to that claim.

Ethan Roberts has two kids in Wayzata elementary schools, and is one of the leaders of a parent group Parents for Reasonable Start Times.

"We are all supportive of high school students getting more sleep, I didn't know they would try to do that at the expense of elementary school kids, that is what was shocking," said Roberts.

Roberts points to contrary research in an American Psychological Association Journal of Educational Psychology published in 2014 by Dr. Peggy Keller, showing less sleep may influence learning for younger children too.

"It's bad for them," said Roberts. "It's hard to think of a decision that school board would make that would have more of a negative impact on our kids than this."

Roberts suggests the district invest more funds in busing to allow the transportation necessary for both high school and elementary students to start later.

Dr. Anderson said he's aware of these parent concerns, but the district feels it's analyzed the outcomes properly.

"We have looked at our own local data and also worked with statisticians from the University of Minnesota, who offered assistance and help, and analyzing our information. We feel comfortable and confident with information we have provided. There would be disagreement with our perspectives at our current time," said Dr. Anderson.

Many parents expressed concern about young children waiting for a bus in the dark on early mornings, as well as what to do about after school care and after school activities if elementary school ends earlier. Many parents also said starting at 7:30 a.m means a reduced family time with parents spending less time with kids because of earlier bedtimes, or keeping their children out of activities because many activities run later into the evening.

Dr. Anderson acknowledges many questions do remain as the district thinks about the logistics of implementation and parents think about the impact to their family lives.

"How will I manage after-school care? When will we do piano lessons or what will this mean for my son's hockey team?" said Dr. Anderson.

Ethan Roberts said the irony is he's already lost sleep trying to rise against the issue himself.

"We are just shifting the problem, moving from tired high school kids to tired elementary kids," said Roberts.

On Nov. 23, Wayzata school board members will take the feedback from the Nov. 10 listening session to provide direction to Superintendent Anderson to develop an official school start times recommendation.

On Dec. 7, Superintendent Anderson will make a formal recommendation to the school board, and then on Dec. 14, the school board will vote on a final school start times recommendation.

Any changes would take effect at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

Click here to view the report in its entirety.


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