Board gets update on school start time evaluation process

Shawn Hardy
This is what the 500 Greencastle-Antrim High School ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade students who responded to the school start time survey think about changing when the school day begins and ends.

Dr. Kendra Trail, superintendent, is planning to make a recommendation in April on whether to change start times in the Greencastle-Antrim School District, but if a change is indicated it probably won't be for the next school year.

An update on the information-gathering process and results of community and student surveys were presented at Thursday night's school board meeting.

Whether the current start times are best for students was brought up several years ago, but nothing happened. The school board asked Trail to revisit the issue and determining whether the existing schedule is best was No. 1 on her list of four goals for the year outlined in August.

Trail said she thinks the district needs more time and "making a change now is unfair to parents for planning." In addition, a Pennsylvania legislative committee report on start times for adolescents is due to come out in September and it "will provide additional direction to districts in PA."

Currently in G-A, high school and middle school start at 7:20 a.m. and the elementary and primary schools start at 8:15.

Before the survey results were reviewed, Trail acknowledged this is a very controversial topic that evokes strong emotions and her presentation ended with "change is difficult and it sometimes clouds perspectives, however we must continue to keep in mind what is best for students."

The process 

Meetings started last summer with administrators and other leaders to look at the impact changing start times would have on schedules, finances, the cafeteria and transportation.

A committee made up of parents, students, teachers, administrators and school board members has been meeting monthly since September to look at information, including research on school start times and adolescent sleep, as well as the survey results.

An Adolescent Sleep and School Start Time tab was added under "Parents" on the district website and the email account sleep@gcasd.org was opened. "Over the past several years, there has been significant mounting scientific evidence that chronic adolescent sleep loss has become a public health issue," says the welcome under the tab.

An information night with Gail Karafin, a licensed school psychologist in the Doylestown area and founder of Start School Later Pennsylvania, a chapter of a national nonprofit focused on educating and advocating for legislation "to ensure evidence-based school hours at the national, state and local level," was held in October.

A second information night is planned at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, in the high school auditorium featuring several superintendents talking about their experiences with changing start times for teens.

Adult survey 

More than 1,330 adults, responded to one survey. The majority — 87.5 percent — are parents and the remainder are faculty and staff or community members. The parents who responded are fairly evenly spread out over the district's four schools.

The question "When do you believe would be the best times to operate (instructional time) Primary and Elementary schools?" saw 48.6 percent or 644 respondents in favor of 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Other results were 7:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., 9.1 percent (121); 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 24.8 percent (329); 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., 15.9 percent (211); and 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., 1.5 percent (20).

Asked the same question for the middle and high schools, nearly 53 percent (707) picked 7:30 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.

Other results were 8 a.m. to 2:55 p.m., 22.2 percent, (296); 8:30 a.m. to 3:25 p.m., 14.4 percent (192); and 8:40 a.m. to 3:35 p.m, 10.5 percent (140).

Asked about the impact of earlier elementary and primary start times and later middle school and high school start times, between 56 and 43 percent identified negative impacts as employment schedule of parent or guardian, transportation to and from school, afterschool activities and athletic practices and events.

High school survey 

About 500 ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders responded to the student survey.

Asked "If G-ASD considers changing the start time of our schools, what time would you like your school to start and end?" 57.4 percent (287) picked "remain the same as it is now."

Other responses were 8 a.m. to 2:55 p.m., 23 percent (115); 8:30 a.m. to 3:25 p.m., 10.8 percent (54); 8:40 a.m. to 3:35 p.m., 3.4 percent (17); and no preference, 5.4 percent (27).

In response to "If school starts later than it does now, tell us why that might be better for you" 325 students — 68.1 percent — marked "I will get more sleep." Students could pick all responses that applied to them, with less than 12 percent including other options such as easier transportation, easier for activities and athletics, easier for parents and guardians to attend school activities and safer going home from school.

In what would be harder if school were to start later, students said getting a job after school, 66.7 percent (318). Athletics and after-school activities were in the 40 to 50 percent range.

Asked when they go to bed on school nights, students said before 10 p.m., 22.3 percent (100); between 10 and 11 p.m., 50.1 percent (225); between 11 p.m. and midnight, 21.2 percent (95); and after midnight, 6.5 percent (29).

Asked "Will you get more sleep if high school started later?" 43.7 percent (218) said yes; 42.1 percent (210) said no; and 14.2 percent (71) don't know.