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Benefits of proposed late start at high schools ‘huge and undeniable’ but details feel like ‘giant puzzle,’ says Salt Lake board VP

School board’s listening tour commences Jan. 13

SHARE Benefits of proposed late start at high schools ‘huge and undeniable’ but details feel like ‘giant puzzle,’ says Salt Lake board VP
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West High School student Zion Baker listens during class in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As the Salt Lake City Board of Education prepares for a listening tour on a proposal to push back the start times of its high schools by at least 30 minutes, board members say they haven’t made up their minds yet but want to hear how such a change could be implemented.

“I see the benefits. It’s huge and undeniable. So how can we eliminate the problems?” said board vice president Melissa Ford.

Research shows that late start at high schools reduces sleep deprivation in students. Inadequate sleep can contribute to anxiety and depression in youths.

High schools with late start policies report that students have measurably lower anxiety levels, better emotional stability, better impulse control, and increased academic and athletic performance, according to school district documents.

In Utah, many districts have discussed late start — including Salt Lake, which has talked about it going back at least five years — only Logan City School District has made the switch.

In Logan, middle school starts at 8:30 a.m. and high school starts at 8 a.m., which is only about 20 minutes later than the previous bell schedule.

While several board members support late starts for the social-emotional benefits, such a change would not be without complications, like what it might mean for early release times for schools, ensuring state-required instructional time is met, busing schedules, impacts on clubs and activities, and passing time between classes, to name a few.

“It feels like a giant puzzle and you’ve put a lot of the pieces here,” said Ford.

The school district’s surveys suggest the benefits of a later start at the high schools is generally supported, “but it’s the implementation that becomes the difficulty,” Ford said.

West High School Community Council chairwoman Katherine Stroud said the health and social benefits of late high school starts are supported by research, and the district’s own surveys suggest is backed by school communities.

“It’s time. Now,” Stroud said.

The question of whether there is support for late start has been answered, so she recommended that the board not use the community meetings to gauge support, she said. The meetings will be conducted next week.

“Instead, the listening tour should focus on how the district and the school board can help support the families to make this transition successful. They may need extra support. Ask them what they need and let’s figure out how to do it,” she said.

For some families, issues of child care, after-school activities, work schedules and transportation are complicating factors, she said.

Parents of younger students may not support the proposed change or do not believe they will be greatly affected by the change, but “all of those kids eventually will be in high school and benefit from this,” Stroud said.

According to the school district’s website, start and end times at nearly every school would be affected by implementing late start. “Delaying high school start times would have a ripple effect on transportation and busing for middle and elementary schools, impacting their start times and end times as well,” the website states.

Each of four late-start options on the website include two tiers, meaning one group of schools starts at a certain time and the second starts 45 minutes later. The district’s transportation department needs 45 minutes to complete their bus routes to the first group of schools and then pick up and deliver students to the second group of schools, said transportation director Martin Yablonovsky.

Board member Kristi Swett said that if the school board is committed to the health and social-emotional benefits of a late school start, conducting club meetings or activity practices before school would conflict with those benefits.

“Why would we do that if we want our kids to be sleeping?” she said.

Board member Katherine Kennedy said those decisions should be left to the schools themselves.

The four community meetings will be held:

  • Monday, Jan. 13, at Bryant Middle School, 40 S. 800 East, starting at 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, Jan. 16, at Northwest Middle School, 1730 W. 1700 North, at 6 p.m.
  • Friday, Jan. 17, at Hillside Middle School, 1825 S. Nevada Street, at 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, Jan. 18, at Glendale Public Library, 1375 S. Concord Street, at 10 a.m.