Changing Jeffco school start times would cost millions

School board commits to continuing to study later starts for teens

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/11/20

Following years of work to establish later start times across the district, the Reimagining Time Task Force, made up of Jeffco parents and district employees, presented to the school board Feb. 5 …

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Changing Jeffco school start times would cost millions

School board commits to continuing to study later starts for teens

Posted

Following years of work to establish later start times across the district, the Reimagining Time Task Force, made up of Jeffco parents and district employees, presented to the school board Feb. 5 with their proposal’s estimated price tag: anywhere from $3 million to $9 million just in the first year, with millions of dollars also needed every year thereafter.

But while “cost is going to drive some of our decision making,” board member Ron Mitchell said at the Feb. 5 study session, research showing the negative mental health effects of early start times spurred the board to unanimously approve holding and exploring the proposal. In other words, while the board did not commit to immediately funding the proposal, it has committed to discussing the proposal again after further data — including community feedback — has been gathered.

Jeffco parents Katie Winner and Laura Johnson, the taskforce co-chairs, pointed to recommendations from several organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Sleep Foundation. The sources suggest adolescent students should not start school before 8:30 a.m., taskforce members said.

“Deficient sleep is a threat to emotional and social well-being,” Johnson said. “We know lack of sleep causes serious mental health problems in adolescents, such as memory impairment and serious consideration of suicide.”

The taskforce also presented data from Cherry Creek School District’s research. The district recently implemented later start times, finding that before the change, about 46% of middle schoolers and 76% of high schoolers reported feeling too tired to do their homework. After the change, the numbers dropped to 35% and 56%, respectively.

At Minnesota’s Edina Public Schools, data showed that “students whose high schools started at 8:30 a.m. of later reported statistically significant less depressive feelings than did the early start students,” according to the presentation.

The taskforce took this into consideration, as well as the district’s transportation and budgetary restrictions, to propose all middle schools start at or after 8 a.m. and high schools, 8:30 a.m. Elementary schools would start at 7:45 or 9:15 a.m., depending on the school. The earliest bus drop-off time for any school would be 7:30 a.m.

The proposal also called for a standardization of instructional contact hours from school to school: 7.5 hours for high schools, seven for middle schools and 6.5 for elementary schools.

Currently, Jeffco high schools start between 7:15 and 8:15 a.m., with “the vast majority” starting at 7:30 a.m. or earlier, said community superintendent Dan Cohan.

Middle schools start anywhere between 7:15 and 8:20 a.m., he said. The earliest drop-off time for any Jeffco bus is 7 a.m.

Three options

The taskforce proposed three options for implementation. The options aimed to present multiple solutions to the “challenge of the west terminal.” The west area routes serve 12 schools and include Pine Junction, Deckers and Indian Hills, according to the Jeffco Public Schools West Transportation Facebook page.

Because of the terminal’s wide layout, the plan to switch some elementary schools to a 9:15 a.m. start would not work in the area, taskforce members said.

In the alternatives, west elementary school times would either stay at their current time; all switch to 7:45 a.m.; or all switch to 9:30 a.m.

Option 1 would require 56 additional bus routes and approximately $9.1 million the first year. The ongoing cost would be an estimated $3.6 million each year.

The second and third options would only require 19 additional routes, an estimated $3.3 million the first year and approximately $1.2 million every year.

While these were the options presented, Winner said that after more research, the taskforce might consider other options, including taking every school’s current start time and pushing them 30 minutes.

The concerns

Board members raised several questions, with board member Brad Rupert suggesting research on cutting initial costs by rolling out the proposal over several years.

Mitchell asked if an 8:30 start time for high schoolers could interfere with after-school activities.

“We need to get high school students home in time to babysit younger brothers and sisters,” he said. “High school students are also in the work world.”

Winner pointed out that in a community survey, there was not a significant number of individuals who named childcare for younger siblings as a concern.

As for the cost, Superintendent Jason Glass said the district has not identified a source of funding for the proposal. Rupert proposed the possibility of reviewing the budget in the future for potential cuts.

“I’m not saying that’s what I would vote for, but I’m saying that’s a choice the board should be making,” he said.

Board members approved a staff recommendation to hold action until the taskforce researches options to reduce the cost.

Eventual action is important, Mitchell said, because no matter the outcome, “the concept has some value for us somewhere.”

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