WORCESTER – With strong opposition from parents in the Boston Public Schools in regards to the school start time schedule for the 2018-19 School Year, the Worcester School Committee will progress cautiously on moving forward with a plan of their own to change school start times.
“School start time changes is something that we continue to look at,” School Committee member Molly McCullough said in an email on Wednesday, Dec. 20.
Just because the School Committee is looking at changing school start times doesn’t mean that they are close to a plan to implement. Key areas that have plagued the Boston Public Schools implementation are in the forefront in Worcester’s approach.
“If this is something that does move forward, we would need to involve parents, students and the community in the discussions because of the impact it will have,” McCullough added.
The discussion over the pushing high school start times back is not new. The Worcester School Committee has had this item on their agenda for many years, and each year it seems to gather more steam.
“We have had this item on the agenda for several years. There is no doubt that a later starting time would be beneficial for our teens,” John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee member said.
The research behind the benefits of a later school start time is large and, in most part, undeniable.
Research by Pamela McKeever and Linda Clark of Central Connecticut State University found that pushing start times for high school to 8:30 a.m. and later improved graduation and attendance rates.
“[School Districts] set students up for failure by endorsing traditional school schedules,” McKeever wrote in her April 2017 report for “Sleep Health: Journal for the National Sleep Foundation.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in their own report says that adolescents that are sleep deprived are more likely to not get enough physical activity and become overweight. They were more likely to perform poorly in school and engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking and drug use.
In 2005, Dr. Amy Wolfson of Holy Cross studied 3,000 Worcester Public Schools students at the request of the School Committee. In that study, Dr, Wolfson found that students with low grades were getting approximately 25 minutes less sleep and going to bed 40 minutes later than student with higher grades.
“The evidence points out that adolescents need more sleep and the effects of sleep deprivation has had a negative effect on their learning capabilities,” Monfredo said of the 2005 study.
Although, the opposition from parents regarding this topic is that the studies are missing a key component, and that is the impact on the family life and the logistics of such a move.
“As a working parent, unless business hours change for the nation, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Jessica Carpenter, a parent whose child already has an 8:35 AM start time.
A parent’s work schedule is one of the biggest concerns. Currently parents can drive their children to school or the bus stop before heading to work. By pushing the start times back parents will not be able to accomplish this or have to re-arrange their work schedules, so they are too going in later and coming home later.
Transportation is also a concern as buses are recycled for both high school and elementary routes. As the plan is to push back only high school start times, WPS would need to either utilize more buses and drivers at a cost or push back elementary start times as well. Adding buses will also contribute to an increase in traffic congestion that the City of Worcester is looking to clear.
Extracurricular activities such as sports will also be impacted, mainly fall and spring sports, which are played outside. The average start time of a spring and fall sporting event is 3:30pm. By pushing school times back 1-2 hours would jeopardize those events because of afternoon sunlight.
“Logistically, with a district of our size, it could be difficult and costly to make these changes,” McCullough said.
Parents in the Boston Public Schools have been outraged because they feel they were not part of the conversation. Something that both Monfredo and McCullough insist will happen if and when a decision is made on the start times in Worcester.
“They did the research and found out how important a later starting time would be for the health of their students, but did not get the input from parents and tried to implement the process too soon,” Monfredo said.
“Changing school start times has a significant impact on many people’s schedules, child care arrangements, after school activities and jobs, etc. It is something that requires thoughtful discussion and careful planning,” McCullough said.
Needless to say, the planning will take just as long as the decision.
In a released statement, Superintendent Maureen Binienda said the following:
“We are continuing our efforts in evaluating the cost implications of changing the start times for Worcester Public Schools. We are currently looking at the impact on transportation as the district provides four tiers of transportation. We have not made a decision yet but are looking to see if there is a cost effective way to implement.”