postheadericon Lansing Considers School Start Time Changes

sleepinggirlLansing kids may get to sleep in before going to school.  A proposal to change the starting times of Lansing schools may give students a few extra minutes of sleep if it is approved. Superintendent Chris Pettograsso says that if the community wants the change the schools will implement it either next school year or the following year.

"It's not a significant change," Pettagrasso says.  "But if it affects people's lives significantly we'll look at it.  The big thing is that this came from the community so we're looking at it.  There's no agenda.  Everyone looks at it from their individual perspective, but we are trying to look at the holistic picture.  We're trying to put all that together to see what is the best solution for everybody."

The Lansing Central School District has four shared decision making teams: one for each school and a district-wide team.  Last year parents serving on the middle school and high school teams asked if the district would look at the start and end times.  At that time they began looking at sleep studies and other data to determine whether changing school start times would be beneficial.

The National Sleep Foundation says pre-schoolers need 11 to 13 hours of sleep.  School aged children 5-10 years old need 10 or 11 hours, teenagers 10-17 years old need 8.5 to 9.25 hours and adults 7 to 9 hours of sleep.  The foundation adds that sleep needs vary among individuals.  And studies have produced mixed results on the effects of too much sleep.  Studies also show students who don't get enough sleep do not perform well in school.  A study that was published in 1998 says the amount of time students sleep is key to their performance.

That said, is the little amount of sleep time proposed worth it?  It's only 15 minutes different for the elementary school kids and 20 for the older kids.

"I think a lot of people would disagree and say that 20 minutes is a significant difference," Pettograsso says.  "A lot of our students, especially our high school students would say 20 minutes would be great."

Studies show school districts that have switched to later start times for high school students have seen improvements in grades, fewer dropouts and fewer traffic accidents.  While the amount of time and the actual times teacher can work are determined by a union contract Pettograsso says that if a major change were deemed to be in the best interest of the students she feels that the strong relationship the administration has with the union would mean they could come to some kind of agreement.  In other districts small changes like shortening each period by five minutes have helped solve contractual issues.  But the proposed plan would not shift class time drastically enough for this to be an issue.

The conventional wisdom that high school-aged students need more sleep than younger kids is not bourn out, but anecdotally they do seem to want more sleep.  Pettograsso says the district has received a lot of input from community members on changing the times, with very mixed opinions.  She says Lansing high school students have sent over over 100 well written, respectful emails on the topic.

"They certainly gave us things to think about: programs they participate in that we may not have been aware of," she says.  "They have been thoughtful."

Some parents are concerned that if younger children who need close supervision leave later that they will not be able to get to work on time.

"It so happens that I have a kid in the elementary school and my wife would loose her job if the school started 15 minutes later -- it barely works as it is right now," says parent Daniel Eikel. "Tompkins county is the hub of higher education, so a great many people work in education (or Borg Warner) and the start times of classes and courses at University and Colleges have been historically developed to accomodate students and teachers - changing them rapidly is not helping. The school does not operate in a vacuum, I can not even imagine how a one hour delay (if that is what it actually comes down to for the middle school at the end) will cause for some middle school parents."

As it is shaping up the proposal won't mean an hour difference for any Lansing students.  Elementary school bus runs would start 15 minutes later than they currently do, while middle and high school bus runs would start 20 minutes later.  The return bus runs would leave 10 minutes later than the current 3:10 bus run, while the older students would leave 18 minutes later.  Pettograsso says that would eliminate the break between bus runs, which would help students who travel to BOCES or other schools on district vehicles by eliminating a gap between the time they get to the Lansing campus and are taken to the various schools.

She says another advantage would be that more parents, especially of younger children, would avail themselves of the bus rather than driving their children to school in order to get to work on time.  That would help alleviate a growing traffic problem that school board members worry has created dangerous situation at the beginning and end of the school day.

The shared decision making teams considered other options, including flipping the elementary starting times with the middle and high school times.  But Pettograsso says that would not work unless all the other districts in Lansing's athletics league also switched their start times.

Another option considered was simply having one bus run for all students and starting all three schools at the same time.  Pettograsso estimates the district would have to purchase four new busses at $100,000 apiece to make that happen.  But she says that while the district could manage the equipment cost, the ongoing cost of additional salaries coupled with the district's difficulty in hiring enough bus drivers make that plan problematic and expensive.

"We talked about doing something similar to what Ithaca did, which was flip-flop the elementary and high school times," she says.  "One of the concerns is the amount of day care time for little kids after school, starting at two instead of three.  They are typically there until between five and six.  In that option elementary school students would start at 7:30 and high school students would start at 8:45."

Pettograsso says that the amount of time kids spend on the bus is a bit longer because Lansing does some things that other districts don't do.  For example some districts have established bus stops rather than stopping at each house.

"We make sure our kids don't cross intersections," she says.  "We stop door to door.  A lot of schools have bus stops now.  We will go well out of our way to make sure a kid isn't crossing the street.  Those are things we protect and if we could probably cut 10 to 15 minutes off these bus runs if we had bus stops with a mile of each home.  We haven't heard that our community wants that."

Pettograsso says one of the big needs that came out of this is that there are a lot of misconceptions about our Transportation Department.

"There are misconceptions about how many students ride the bus, about there being many empty busses, about our routes being planned in a manner that is not efficient," she says.  "I've asked our Transportation Department to do a parent/community night so we can present how we do our runs and how they're organized.  I am hoping it will be in the second week of June at the latest."

Eikel expresses concern that a significant decision is being made by small committees behind closed doors, but Pettograsso says a survey is planned for distribution to all parents and to the community at large to gather input before a decision is made.  She says that if this is a change to be made, the decision will be made at the end of the school year at the very latest.

"Right now it's just a proposal," she says.  "We're trying to get feedback.  There is support for both options.  So the administration is not really saying 'we would like you to do this.'  It's saying 'this was brought to us from our families so we're looking at it.  We're seeing if we can tweak the schedules and seeing if it will work for our community.'  If it does we'll move forward, and if it doesn't we'll say it's not right for us right now.  So there's not really a big investment (by the administration) in making that change."

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