(Photo: April Corbin Girnus)
Changing school start times within Clark County School District would result in “a significant impact to the CCSD community and families,” according to materials published online in advance of a presentation scheduled for Thursday night’s Clark County School Board meeting. The board is not scheduled to vote on changing start times.
“The draft of the language is not finalized yet, and the LCB still has to review it,” CCSD Trustee Linda Cavazos said via text. “This presentation is informational, but still only a projection of possibilities.”
Trustees will be presented with three options: swapping elementary and high school start times, starting all schools an hour later, or abandoning the three-tiered schedule – in which high schools, middle schools and elementary schools generally begin one hour apart – in favor of two tiers.
The informational presentation is in response to a Nevada State Board of Education draft regulation that, if adopted, would apply to all schools that currently begin before 8 a.m. The BOE is seeking to establish “guidelines and guardrails” according to the presentation.
High school students, who in most schools currently begin the academic day at 7 a.m., have long complained they are walking or driving to campus in the dark during the winter months. Others contend they’re challenged to study, participate in after-school activities or hold part-time jobs, and be in the classroom by 7 a.m.
The New York Times reported last year that about a third of older high school students have part-time jobs.
The 2014 School Health Policies and Practices Study says 93% of high schools and 83% of middle schools in the U.S. started before 8:30 a.m.
Research indicates early start times are not in tune with teen biorhythms. The Centers for Disease Control suggest lack of sleep contributes to health risks in teens including being overweight, and using drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
A study published in 2021 looked at responses of 46,537 high school students in 166 high schools in Colorado to the 2019 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and found schools with later school start times “had a statistically significantly higher proportion of students sleeping 8+ hours.”
The study, one of the first to look at a relationship between teen sleep and serious mental health issues such as depression and suicide attempts, found more students attending schools with start times before 8 a.m. reported attempting suicide than in schools with later start times.
“It’s a very complex issue that I deal with constantly in my therapy practice,” said Cavazos, a licensed family therapist. “Lack of sleep is a factor that can affect any age group who is experiencing depression, anxiety, and pressures from school, work, family issues, relations, etc.”
Additionally, experts say lack of sleep contributes to poor academic performance. and chronic absenteeism.
Chronic absenteeism is defined by CCSD as missing 10% or more of school days for any reason. CCSD reported a chronic absenteeism rate of 36% in the last school year. Educators say chronically absent students are less likely to succeed in school and more likely to drop out.
About 81% of Nevada high school seniors graduated in 2022-23, up slightly from the previous year, according to the Board of Education.
The first option before CCSD would delay start and dismissal times of the six-hour school day by one hour. It would have no effect on bus transportation.
CCSD buses currently run more than 1,400 routes a day, but the district lacks the infrastructure to “fully support student transportation services,” according to the presentation.
Opponents of delaying school start times say it will shorten the window for after-school activities, primarily for young children, and disrupt family schedules, especially for working parents who drive their children to school.
The second option calls for moving back start times one hour, as well as swapping schedules for high schoolers and elementary school students. Elementary schools would begin school at 8 a.m., middle schools at 9 a.m., and high schools at 10 a.m.
Parents say the option would prevent their older children from picking up middle and elementary students, as well as cut into time for after-school activities and jobs.
The option would also require the school district to augment bus service, requiring an additional $11.6 million initially and $200,000 a year for buses, as well as $2.2 million a year for drivers.
The third option would consolidate the current three-tier system to two tiers, with classes for high school beginning at 8 a.m., elementary schools beginning at 9:30 a.m., and middle schools starting at both times.
That option would require $100 million in capital for 450 additional buses, as well as $2 million a year for maintenance cost; an additional bus facility with a capital cost of $45 million, and $1 million a year in operation costs; 450 additional bus drivers at an annual cost of $18.9 million, and dispatch personnel at an annual cost of $1.1 million.
CCSD says it would take 9 to 12 months to procure 100 buses, fewer than a quarter of the required 450. Additionally, the district says hiring 450 drivers “would divert HR resources away from addressing the staffing needs of other District departments.”
A fourth option
CCSD in its presentation to trustees says the benefits of the current schedule include:
- Increased on-time service by allowing more time between each of the staggered start times
- Decreased driver vacancies by reducing the number of routes required
- Increased capacity for extracurricular activities
- Optimized use of the fleet and drivers by using one driver to service three schools
The Board of Education could issue waivers to schools “that face unique challenges in modifying their start times,” according to the draft regulation. “The State Board of Education will review each application on a case-by-case basis, considering the best interests of the students and the school community.”
“School districts and charter schools that currently have schools with start times before 8:00 AM must provide alternative options to families and students,” the draft says. “These options shall be aimed at addressing the potential negative impact of early start times on student health, well-being, and academic performance.”
The proposed regulation requires districts with start times before 8 a.m. to survey students, parents and educators for feedback on factors such as transportation, extracurricular activities, and family needs.
New start times will be implemented gradually, according to the draft regulation, beginning in the 2024-25 school year. In that year, a quarter of schools in each district must offer alternative start time options, with capacity for an additional 25% each subsequent year until all schools comply or have a waiver.
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