Inver Grove Heights school consider later start times

It’s been in the news a lot lately: teenagers need more sleep and reap benefits from later school start times. 

The issue of adjusting school hours is now a topic of conversation within Inver Grove Heights Community Schools.

Superintendent Dave Bernhardson said the topic of changing school start times in order to combat chronic sleep deprivation among teenagers has been under consideration since last year.

“This has been a topic that [the school board members] have been interested in, and that interest was really sparked by people in the community asking the district to take a look at the research associated with teens and sleep, and how that relates to start times,” Bernhardson said. 

District 199 administrators began reviewing medical research on teenage sleep patterns this past summer. Presentations were given to a committee formed for this topic on studies done by The Center for Applied Research and Education Improvement (CAREI) at the University of Minnesota.

The university studies concluded that later high school start times optimize student learning. A recent review by CAREI showed that teens getting fewer than eight hours of sleep are at greater risk of making poor choices, are more vulnerable to substance abuse, and reported significantly higher depression symptoms and greater use of caffeine.

Bernhardson said discussion started with these presentations because they needed to start with the “why.” When conversations like this happen, Bernhardson said people want to know what is being proposed, but they felt they first needed people to gain an understanding of why the district might decide to change school start times - at all grade levels.

Simley principal Jerry Sakala said he has been an educator for 34 years and didn’t realize how important sleep was for teenagers. 

 

After the “why” came the “what” 

Currently, Simley High School and Inver Grove Heights Middle School begin at 7:40 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. 

The District 199 elementary schools start their days at 8:30 a.m. and dismiss at 3:10 p.m.

There are three options up for consideration. The first one would make no changes to the start times.

The second one is what Bernhardson described as the “pushed back” option. High school and middle school would have classes from 8:10 a.m. to 3:10 p.m., while the elementary schools would have classes from 9:15 a.m. to 3:55 p.m.

The third option is a version of a “flip.” The elementary schools would run from 7:50 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., while the secondary schools would have classes from 8:35 a.m. to 3:25 p.m.

Bernhardson said these are the options because the district has a two-tier transportation system, which means buses run two different routes every day.

He said one goal would be to not incur increased transportation costs if the start times are changed.

Sakala said there are obvious benefits for Simley students if their school day starts later. But he emphasized the district works as a whole system, and administrators need to consider the effects to the whole system.

Middle school principal Jodi Wendel said the research is very clear but very teenage focused. She said she thinks about what the potential changes would mean for the students ages 11, 12 and 13 in her building.

“What are the ramifications, positive or negative, to them? So I think it’s kind of having these conversations and doing a little more learning on my end to figure out what does this truly mean for the middle-level kids,” Wendel said.

Bernhardson said these are important things to remember. He said teachers work hard to have core learning for the elementary kids in the morning because that is when young children are the most ready to go. 

He said at the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, the kids are “in the middle” in a couple ways. Some middle-schoolers are more alert in the morning hours, because they haven’t gone through some of the hormonal changes that their peers have already experienced. 

There also is research that shows that the more middle-school students are involved in studying and extracurricular activities a little later in the day, the less likely they are to get into mischief before parents typically get home.

Bernhardson said the committee timeline is to have information regarding the options to the school board at its November work session. 

The board members would then discuss the options and likely select one at their regular November or December meetings.

“We know parents and staff, if there’s a change, need time to make those adjustment, and we feel that is a good amount of time,” Bernhardson said.

Changes could include daycare changes, which sometimes involves things that need to be in place by the first of the year like Flex spending.

This is the first time the Inver Grove Heights district has had discussions about adjusting the school hours. Bernhardson said other Twin Cities school districts have changed their start times and are seeing benefits not only academically but also socially/emotionally. Bernhardson said academic performance has improved at these schools, while behavior referrals are down.

 

Online survey

Some community concerns have been raised regarding switching start times. 

Regarding the “flip” option, Bernhardson said some people have wondered how early is too early for elementary students to be waiting at bus stops. Other concerns have been raised about the effects later start times could have on times for after-school activities for the middle and high schools.

“We have [Metro East] conference schools that have made this change already,” Bernhardson said.

Bernhardson said another issue people have raised is how these different start times could impact family schedules. 

A survey will be available online starting Monday, Oct. 10, for those who wish to give their input. 

Bernhardson said administrators know there is no perfect start/end time schedule, but they are trying to implement the best one to support the District 199 students.

“In the end the board has to weigh into that and say what is the best option for our kids moving forward, taking into account all these different things,” Bernhardson said. 

“We know that if there is a change, there is going to be an adjustment and that adjustment impacts people in different ways.”

More information and the presentations can be found at isd199.org.

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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