Poll Shows Strong Support for Later High School Start Time

Tuesday, December 12, 2017, 7:40 am
Karessa Wheeler

At last night’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Dori Leyko shared the results of a recent poll on school start times. The overwhelming majority of respondents supported moving the High School start time to 8 a.m. or later.

The online survey, active from Nov. 9-21, was completed by 1,566 people, including 1,236 parents, 240 staff, 68 students and 65 community members. Just over half of the parents had elementary-aged children.

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.

“This is an important issue in our community,” Leyko said, but because start times are negotiated with the teachers’ union, the administration and board are not able to make unilateral changes in the schedule. The results of the poll “will be used to inform decision making related to future start times and start dates for the district,” she said.

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 effects their academics and mental and physical health.

Pediatrician Dr. John Gold, parent of a 7th grader and 2nd grader, urged the Board to use this data to move forward on changing the start times for the High School.

"Most of the community is on board with what the research shows. For at least 20 years, the pediatric community has been clear on the benefit of sleep in high school students,” Gold said. “This is nothing new. What is new is that there are a lot more benefits for teenagers that cross all kinds of issues of mental health as well as physical health. I know there are complexities in the school schedule but in terms of lifelong health benefits, there is a real advantage to kids getting enough sleep.”

Those who responded to the survey were split half and half over whether it was important that secondary students were dismissed first in order to watch younger siblings. Board Vice President Erin Graham asked Leyko if scholarships were available for those parents to put the younger children into the City of East Lansing-run Before and After Care program at the elementary schools. Leyko said she believed there was but couldn’t speak for the City.

The poll also asked respondents about their preferred start date for schools and 62 percent said they would prefer to start before Labor Day. Currently the state requires schools to delay starting until after Labor Day but numerous area schools have recently received waivers allowing them to start before Labor Day. Of those who said they would prefer an earlier start to the school year, 45 percent said they would support moving the start date up by one week while 18 percent wanted to start two weeks earlier than currently. This issue is also negotiated with teachers during contract bargaining.

Leyko said the poll resulted in 667 comments about the start times and date – 30 pages worth of suggestions, criticisms and commentary. Some that she shared Monday night included:

  • Consider aligning East Lansing school calendar with neighboring districts
  • Consider a balanced calendar (also known as year round school)
  • Consider aligning the ELPD District calendar with Michigan State University.

Leyko said it is state law that the Intermediate School Districts determine the winter and spring breaks for all the schools in its district so even if they aligned the start and end dates with MSU, East Lansing would not be able to ensure the winter and spring breaks matched up.

Some respondents also suggested trading fewer school days for longer days. Current Michigan law requires both a minimum of 1,098 hours and at least 180 days. Leyko estimates that at the most, a few of the schools run 20 minutes more than that.

The full results of the poll will be posted today on the District’s website.