September 27, 2018
School Board discusses options for school start times, agrees to no change until at least 2020-2021 school year
Administration charged with exploring options for implementation and budget impact
Following up to a presentation by members of the Teen Sleep and School Start Time Study Committee on Sept. 10, the South St. Paul School Board discussed its options at a work session on Sept. 24. The board focused its discussion around four key issues: identifying support for the committee’s preferred “Option E” or other proposed options, the role of the committee going forward, next steps for implementing a possible change to school start/end times, and alternative daily schedules for the high school and/or secondary school.
“We have heard from the committee and we need to honor their work,” said Board Chair Chris Walker. “It is now time for the board to articulate next steps for administration and identify how we can align with the research about start times in a way that fits within our budget constraints.”
In reviewing the committee’s agreements, preferred option and rationale, the Board agreed that moving secondary start times later was in the best interest for student learning. However, individual members differed on which of three options that include later secondary times (i.e. Options C, D and E) best aligns with the district’s long-term vision and financial situation.
School Board Clerk Wendy Felton expressed concern about the cost of Option E, which is estimated to cost the district an additional $270,000 annually. “We are awaiting the results of the district’s annual financial audit, and we need to also look at ways to address the concerns raised about zero hour at the high school. I have concerns about the long-term feasibility of Option E and what it means for our district finances,” Felton said.
Board member Sarah Winslow-Brewer expressed concern about waiting to implement a change that is supported by medical research. “I appreciate that we have other demands on the budget, but I also believe we need to look at what we can do to serve our students now. By maintaining status quo, we will be doing harm to some of our students. We need to do what has been proven to positively impact students and what is in the best interest of public health.”
Superintendent Dave Webb shared that the district’s audit will be completed later this fall, after which the district will start its annual budgeting process. “We know that there will likely be other needs that must be addressed and would prefer to look at all of these options within the context of the Board’s future budget parameters,” he said.
The Board’s discussion of next steps included releasing the committee of additional study at this time, and directing administration to further assess costs and timelines for the three options with the goal of implementing new start times in the 2020-21 school year. To help facilitate the administration’s work, the Board amended its parameters to provide more flexibility and clarity in assessing potential impacts on district finances and programming.
In addition to school start times, the Board also discussed a desire to explore alternative daily schedule options for the high school, a study that was supported by the Start Time Committee. With the current six-period day, the high school currently offers some classes before the 7:50 a.m. school start time in what is known as “zero hour.” Doing so allows some students to access additional elective courses such as music or a world language, either before school or during the day. However, the zero hour currently starts at 7:00 a.m. and is not necessarily accessible to all students, in particular for those without transportation.
“We know that the six-period day is limiting for students and that having a zero hour is contradictory to what the research says about adolescent brain function and sleep,” Webb said. “It makes sense for us to look at all options before us to see what is viable and most importantly, best for all South St. Paul students.”
Webb said he will work with district administration to continue studying start time and daily schedule options in the coming weeks. Both will be incorporated into the larger district planning discussions set to begin in December, and will include additional opportunities for engagement with students, staff and families.