November 15 2017

School Committee Votes to Approve Later BHS Start Time

By: Rich Hosford

Burlington High School students will get to sleep in a little later starting in September of 2018.

During Tuesday night’s School Committee members voted unanimously to adopt a later school start time for the high school.

The reason the School Department was considering changing the school start time is because a lot of data show that traditional school start times for high schools have adverse health effects on teenagers. They also add to stress levels of students, experts say.

Earlier this year the department invited Dr. Judith Owens, Director of The Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital and an Associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, to discuss teenage sleep cycles and the benefit of later school start times. She said teenagers’ biological rhythms match a pattern of sleeping later into the morning and that there are a number of benefits for delaying the start of school for students in that age bracket.

On Tuesday the committee voted to adopt what was termed Proposal 2. The first proposal, released in September, met with resistance from parents because it would have pushed younger students to significantly earlier start times. Marshall Simonds Middle School would have started at 7:25 a.m. rather than the 7:35 start time it has now. Further, both Memorial and Francis Wyman Elementary Schools would have been pushed to a start time of 7:55 a.m. from the current time of 8:10 a.m.

Proposal 2 was seen as a compromise. It keeps the middle school start time the same and doesn’t push any elementary school earlier or later than later than elementary schools currently see, though it does switch around start times among the schools.

In the plan the high school will start at 8:35 a.m. and the middle school will keep its start time of 7:35 a.m. Memorial will keep its start time of 8:10 a.m. and both Fox Hill and Pine Glen will switch from 8:35 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. Francis Wyman will start later, moving from 8:10 a.m. to 8:35 a.m. The high school will be dismissed at 3:05 p.m. andthe middle school at 1:55 p.m. Memorial, Fox Hill and Pine Glen will be dismissed at 2:15 p.m. and Francis Wyman will be dismissed at 2:40 p.m.

School officials and School Committee members acknowledged that the plan wasn’t ideal. First, most agree it would be best if the start time at the middle school could also be pushed later, but to make that work the school would need another tier of buses, which would cost around $300,000 per year. Secondly, they said they realize that any change at the elementary level will negatively impact some families.

Member Stephen Nelson said he believed this proposal would benefit the most students while reducing the impact on others.

“I feel bad for parents that have to make lifestyle changes but I think the administration was trying to come up with a plan that negatively impacted the least number of families and I think they did that,” he said.

Still, there was one woman who has children in both the elementary school and high school levels who spoke at the meeting against making the start time for Francis Wyman later. She said that would make it difficult for her work schedule because she cannot leave her younger children to get ready for school on their own.

Members of the committee were sympathetic, and talked about looking into possibly expanding the before and after-school programs, but voted on the proposal in the end.

The one member who showed significant reluctance was Christine Monaco. She suggested, as she had before, that an 8:30 start time for the high school was too late. She said she’d prefer something in the 8 to 8:20 a.m. range that would have the students get out before 3 p.m. She also said she’d like to see changes at the middle school.

“I’ve struggled with this and unfortunate so much driven by money,” she said. “Money is what is restraining us from making changes at middle school. I have trouble with that concept because I think we should be providing the best education regardless of the dollars, especially in a community like this where we have so much tax help from the businesses. I think in this difficult puzzle it would be better to have more money for buses.”

In the end, she said, she was facing the choice of making a change she didn’t feel was ideal or no change at all.

“I’m not happy with either of them but I have to make a choice,” she said. “I’ve thought about it, I’ve asked medical people about it and I’ve asked educators about it and the bottom line is it better for the teenagers to start later, so I’m gong to support it.”

Finally, Burlington High School is not alone in the region when it comes to changing its start time. Superintendent Eric Conti said other schools in the Middlesex league have either already changed or are working on proposals to change. The schools are working together to work out the logistics on things like sports and other cross-school programs.


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