Students Argue for Later ELHS Start Time; Board Members Observe #MeToo

Tuesday, January 9, 2018, 7:33 am
By: 
Karessa Wheeler

Above: from left, ELPS Board members Erin Graham, Nell Kuhnmuench, Nichole Martin, Karen Hoene, Hillary Henderson, Kate Powers and Terah Chambers, and Superintendant Dori Leyko.

Three members of the MacDonald Middle School Debate Club presented their case for later high school start times Monday night.

Speaking before the East Lansing Board of Education, eighth graders Molly Conlin, Greta Gmazel and Jinyoung Jeong asked the Board to switch the current start times of the high school and elementary schools, citing research that high schoolers need more sleep to succeed academically.

Sometimes kids know what they need and this time research supports us. The health and academic benefits outweigh the negatives,” Jinyoung said.

Inspired by a survey done by the District administration, the Club surveyed 109 students in grades 8-12 and found that most only get six to seven hours a sleep per night during the week with an average amount of six hours, 45 minutes. On weekends, students get an average of nine hours of sleep per night. They shared the results with the Board through a PowerPoint presentation.

“We researched both sides and more sleep causes students to be more alert, get better grades and have less accidents,” Molly said. “Students’ voices should be heard because this affects them.”

The survey also asked the students if they were satisfied with the start times and 60 percent indicated that they were not satisfied.

“Think of this as a customer satisfaction survey. If you are selling something and 60 percent of customers aren’t happy, you have a problem. Well, 60 percent of students aren’t satisfied so we have a problem,” Jinyoung said.

Students cited the facts that they were tired, needed more sleep, found it hard to pay attention and felt they function better when the school starts later.

“We urge you to make an agreement with teachers’ union to switch high school start time with the elementary start time,” Molly said.

A District-operated online survey, active from Nov. 9-21, showed that almost 80 percent of those participating said they would prefer if high school students started their school day no earlier than 8 a.m. A quarter of all people said the ideal high school start time would be 8:45 a.m., the latest option in the poll and the current start times of the District’s elementary schools.

ELHS currently begins its day at 7:45 a.m. and dismisses at 2:34 p.m. Many students choose to come to the school even earlier for a “zero hour” activity such as honors orchestra or band ensembles. MacDonald Middle School is in session from 8:05 a.m. until 2:52 p.m., and school hours for the elementary buildings are 8:45 a.m. – 3:33 p.m.

Parents have long been advocating a later start time at the high school, supported by evidence from medical and educational research showing that teenagers, as a whole, tend to go to bed later and wake up later. By forcing them to wake up earlier, they end up sleep-deprived which affects their academics and their mental and physical health.

The issue of start times is part of ongoing negotiations between the District administration and the East Lansing Education Association, the union representing faculty and staff.

Meanwhile, all Board members wore black clothing for the meeting Monday in support of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements against sexual assault and harassment. This followed the “thin black line” of actors appearing at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony Sunday night in black outfits as a show of solidarity.

“We are all wearing black on purpose and we are standing in solidarity with women affected by sexual assault, and really all women. We are piggy-backing on the #MeToo and Time’s Up to make a statement as an all women board that enough is enough and we stand with all women especially those affected,” Henderson said.

Trustee Hoene joined in “to remind everyone that all women - and boys too can be sexually assaulted and harassed – that it is so important to stand up and tell their stories. I want to remind all students that they should speak up and find their voice. They will be listened to, heard and believed,” Hoene said.

Trustee Nichole Martin mentioned the mental health aspect of the #MeToo movement.

“All places can be lonely but high school can be extremely lonely,” Martin said. “If we can reach one student, male or female, to recognize that we acknowledge and that you are not alone.”

Graham added that she wanted to recognize that elementary and middle school students are affected as well and that it is difficult to come forward but there are people in the District that they can talk to.

“It’s a show of solidarity on this board. We don’t always agree but we agree on this issue,” Graham said.

In other action, the Board:

  • Approved a new slate of officers with Trustee Kate Powers as Board President, Trustee Erin Graham as Vice President, Trustee Hillary Henderson as Treasurer and Trustee Karen Hoene as Secretary.
  • Approved a budget revision for an increase of $81,322 over the prior year’s actual expenses but $20,643 less than what was anticipated.