Board of Education considering a vote on whether to change school start and end times

Poudre School District’s Board of Education may at its Nov. 27 meeting decide whether to vote to change PSD’s bell schedule, following a more than yearlong exploration that included an extensive community input process.

Directors will decide whether to implement start- and end-time changes and, should they vote in favor to do so, would select from among the proposed scenarios to adopt. That decision would prompt immediate work by district staff to develop an implementation plan that carefully considers the wide-reaching and intricately connected PSD and community impacts of such a change. 

"I want us to think about, when we're making this decision, what's best for kids,” Director Carolyn Reed said, as members of the board weighed the proposed start-and-end-time scenarios. 

If changes to bell schedules occur, they would take effect during the 2019-20 school year.  

Should the Board vote to move forward with changes, PSD would launch a comprehensive communications campaign about impending changes.

PSD staff recommended at the Nov. 13 meeting that the Board consider three of the proposed scenarios, should Board members decide to vote in favor of changing schedules. Scenario B was modified during the research process to reflect community feedback and is referred to as Modified Scenario B.

The scenarios the Board may consider include: 

1)    Maintain current start times
2)    Scenario A: 8:30 a.m. high school; and current start times for most middle and elementary schools 
3)    Modified Scenario B: 8:55-9 a.m. high school start; 8:05 a.m. middle school start; 7:45-8:50 a.m. elementary school start; and 4-4:05 p.m. end time for high school, eliminating later-start Wednesdays

At its Nov. 13 meeting, district staff presented to the Board a more than 500-page report that included feedback from PSD students, parents, staff, and community members about altering school start times with a goal of fostering conditions for healthier adolescent sleep patterns. Mental health is among the Board of Education’s significant focus areas.

The in-depth exploration, conducted at the request of the Board, is part of a larger trend of moving school districts to bell schedules that align with American Medical Association (AMA) guidelines. Along the Front Range in Colorado, Cherry Creek School District, Littleton Public Schools, Brighton’s School District 27J, and Thompson School District have moved start times. 

Research has shown that teenagers learn better and are safer when they start school later in the day. The AMA and other major national health organizations recommend that teenagers start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. PSD’s current start times range from 7:25-8:15 a.m. at the secondary level. 

Over the course of the start-times study, PSD administered two surveys that were open to students, parents, PSD staff, and community members. The first survey drew approximately 10,000 responses, and the second about 13,000. It is likely that some people responded to both surveys. 

Survey results did not present a clear mandate or strong preference for change, nor for maintenance of the status quo. Scenario C was the least-preferred of all the scenarios, results show. In that scenario, high schools would start between 8:55-9 a.m., middle-school start times would be 8:35 a.m., and elementary school-start times would be between 7:45-8:40 a.m.

Additionally, PSD gathered feedback through four in-person community engagement sessions hosted this fall, as well as through focus groups with high school students.

The Board and staff are acutely aware that a change to school start and end times would have wide-reaching and interconnected impacts across the community, including on PSD families, district and community-wide transportation, employers, neighborhoods, and more.  

Implementation efforts related to a change in start times would begin as soon as possible following a Board decision. Each of the scenarios come with associated costs related to implementation. 

With later end times, for example, PSD would likely need to add light to nine fields and to tennis courts at the District’s comprehensive high schools. The current estimate for what would be a long-term project is about $4 million.

Superintendent Sandra Smyser thanked members of the Board and the community for their thoughtful considerations and questions over the course of the more than yearlong exploration. She emphasized that a change of this magnitude would have wide-reaching impacts that influence so many more beyond members of the PSD community.

"We sometimes take for granted and don't consider what a crucial part of every community we are. We educate everyone's children, but we also light up their neighborhoods sometimes,” Superintendent Smyser said, referring to discussions that would need to occur around use of athletics fields at night.

PSD’s implementation work, should the Board vote to move forward with changing the bell schedule, would occur through the lens of doing what’s best for children, Superintendent Smyser said, knowing that a change of this nature could affect the schedules of working young teens and, as a result, those in the community who employ them. There are also considerations related to changes in District staffing, bussing schedules, extracurricular and athletic activities, and so much more.
 
“I would like to give you the confidence that we will be thoughtful,” she said, “And the more time we have, the more time we can work with those groups to have those discussions.”