Start time changes approved by Wayzata School Board

High school start delayed nearly an hour, five elementary schools will begin at 7:45 a.m.

Beginning fall 2016, the Wayzata School District will roll out changes that push Wayzata High’s start time to 8:20 a.m., nearly an hour later than its current 7:30 a.m. start. (Sun Sailor file photo by Jason Jenkins)
Beginning fall 2016, the Wayzata School District will roll out changes that push Wayzata High’s start time to 8:20 a.m., nearly an hour later than its current 7:30 a.m. start. (Sun Sailor file photo by Jason Jenkins)

Beginning fall 2016, the Wayzata School District will roll out changes that push Wayzata High’s start time to 8:20 a.m., nearly an hour later than its current 7:30 a.m. start.

The Wayzata School Board came to a unanimous decision Dec. 14 to approve Supt. Chace Anderson’s recommendation for a flip in start times, which will move two schools from a 9:10 a.m. to a 7:45 a.m. start, joining Greenwood and Oakwood as early start elementary schools. Meadow Ridge Elementary will also start at 7:45 a.m. when it opens in the fall.

The superintendent named the plan as his recommendation for school start times at a Dec. 7 school board work session.

The new schedule for schools:

Tier I – 7:45 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.

• Greenwood Elementary

• Kimberly Lane Elementary

• Meadow Ridge Elementary

• Oakwood Elementary

• Plymouth Creek Elementary

Tier II – 8:30 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.

• Wayzata High (8:20 a.m. start)

• Birchview Elementary

• Gleason Lake Elementary

• Sunset Hill Elementary

Tier III – 9:10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Central Middle

• East Middle

• West Middle

The changes come ahead of the opening of Meadow Ridge, the district’s eighth elementary school. In trying to create a schedule and map bus transportation routes that include the new school, the school district decided to take a look at district-wide changes in hopes to better align start times with the natural sleep patterns of students.

Before the school board came to a decision, Supt. Anderson gave an overview of his recommendation that continues the district’s three tiers of start times, noting that the plan had been adjusted from a previous scenario that would have had students being picked up by buses as early as 6:45 a.m.

“With this recommendation, students will not be picked up earlier than 7 a.m.,” Anderson said, adding that under the plan, an estimated 20 percent of early start elementary students would be picked up between 7-7:10 a.m., and that the remaining students would be picked up between 7:10-7:30 a.m.

The length of bus rides for early start elementary school students would also be limited to no longer than 30 minutes, Anderson added.

Options that included a two-tiered system were considered, but the district said they would require longer bus rides of up to 45 minutes and create an additional $450,000 per year in transportation costs. With a two-tier scenario, the district said there were also concern around securing enough bus drivers.

Regarding the idea of all schools in the district starting at the same time, Anderson said, “Having 10,800 students start school all at the same time and simultaneously within the school district just really is not feasible or possible.”

The superintendent said three elementary schools were placed under the second tier because their proximity to the three middle schools in the southern portion of the school district helped setup a more effective transportation system. The three elementary schools placed under the second tier (Birchview, Gleason Lake and Sunset Hill) will see a start time shift from 9:10 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

Anderson’s recommendation to the school board also cited comparative studies from Stacey Lackner, the school district’s director of research and evaluation, and Danielle Dupuis, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, regarding early and late-start elementary schools within the district.

“We’ve affirmed that our students perform equally well with either start time,” Anderson said.

For the high school, Anderson’s recommendation said a later start aligns with current sleep research and that “sleep deprivation concerns can arise when high schools and middle schools start too early.”

“There are numerous studies and a lot of literature that speaks to these three key areas – of cognitive effects, behavioral effects and health and safety effects,” Anderson said.

The school board’s vote to flip district start times comes a month after Seattle Public Schools decided to move its high schools to an 8:45 a.m. start and most of its elementary schools to a 7:55 a.m. start. The move makes the district one of the largest in the nation where teens will begin class later than 8:30 a.m.

A contentious decision

The discussion around changing the start times hasn’t been without controversy. Many of the nearly 20 parents who addressed the school board at the meeting spoke out against placing elementary students on the earlier schedule, stressing that an earlier start means an earlier bedtime and less family time on weeknights, especially for families with two working parents. Parents also contended that a flip in start times would shift the problem of student sleep deprivation from the older students to the younger students.

Fiona Kan, a parent who headed an online petition against early elementary start times, was among the group of parents who spoke out against the recommendation at the school board meeting. Kan, who has two young students in the district, contended that the change would come at the expense of the younger students and their families.

“There is only one reason for the change, which is for the benefit of high school students. … Our kids should be treated equally and carry the same weight,” Kan said

Ethan Roberts, a parent of two students who attend a late-start elementary school, also voiced his opposition to the district’s reasoning behind moving young students to an earlier start.

“[Supt. Anderson] never once cited any research that said that earlier start times are beneficial to younger students. … Because it doesn’t exist, that research does not exist,” Roberts said.

Other parents, like Anne Rodriguez, whose three children went through an early start elementary school in the district, urged the board to move forward with the recommended plan. She said that while it’s a difficult change for families, it is necessary for the health of the older students and won’t come at a cost to younger children.

“I listen to everybody talk about the early start schools and how detrimental they are to children there. … This could not be further from the experience that I had and that everybody that I know who went to those schools had,” Rodriguez said.

Alexis Hayden, a sophomore at Wayzata High School, also spoke before the vote from the school board and called for a later high school start time. She said when in class, it’s not uncommon for her to see students falling asleep.

The Wayzata School Board came to a unanimous decision Dec. 14 to approve a flip in start times, which will push Wayzata High’s start time to 8:20 a.m. The change will also move two elementary schools from a 9:10 a.m. to a 7:45 a.m. start, joining Greenwood and Oakwood as early start elementary schools. Meadow Ridge Elementary, a new school, will also start at 7:45 a.m. when it opens in the fall. (Sun Sailor file photo by Jason Jenkins)
The Wayzata School Board came to a unanimous decision Dec. 14 to approve a flip in start times, which will push Wayzata High’s start time to 8:20 a.m. The change will also move two elementary schools from a 9:10 a.m. to a 7:45 a.m. start, joining Greenwood and Oakwood as early start elementary schools. Meadow Ridge Elementary, a new school, will also start at 7:45 a.m. when it opens in the fall. (Sun Sailor file photo by Jason Jenkins)

“Change needs to happen, and it needs to happen now,” the student said.

Before the vote, school board members offered comments on why they had decided to go forward with the superintendent’s recommended start time changes.

“Looking forward, I know that all of our students have the potential to be successful next year and beyond,” said board member Sarah Johansen. “And mostly, that is because of each and every one of you who will do what it takes to ensure your child’s success. Kids are resilient, and they adapt, and they thrive. I believe that to my core.”

Board member Cheryl Polzin emphasized that her decision was not a vote representing value in one group of students over another.

“We’ve all come to the conclusion that the high school starts too early. … The best way to accomplish that goal is to look at the whole system, look at what we have, and figure out what’s best for all of or students as a whole organization,” Polzin said, noting that two elementary schools in the district have had early start times for 20 years.

Board chair Linda Cohen said she would not support a recommendation unless she fully believed it was the right choice for all students.

“I would not vote for something where I thought I was doing something that was less good for some of the students,” she said. “And educationally, I think we are doing what’s really preferable for the kids.”

With the board’s approval, the school district will move ahead with planning for the implementation of the new start times for the 2016-17 school year.

Contact Jason Jenkins at [email protected]