School board: Start times will remain the same

By Bryan Richardson

The order of the school day will remain the same for USD 383 after the school board’s decision Wednesday not to swap start times for elementary and secondary schools.

A motion not to change the start times at district schools was approved by a 6-1 margin, with Walt Pesaresi dissenting.

Pesaresi said the lack of comments from parents on the learning benefits of changing times concerned him. “Education today is so political not only in what we can teach kids and how we respond to different situations but even with starting times and lunchtime and everything else,” he said.

The board considered a change in start times based on previous discussions over the years about the subject. They also considered evidence in various national studies showing that later school times for teenagers improve attendance and academic performance.

The start times will continue to be 7:40 a.m. at Manhattan High, 7:50 a.m. at the middle schools, and between 8:25 and 8:40 a.m. at the elementary schools.

Pesaresi attempted to get some momentum for implementing earlier starting times for certain elementary schools if the schedule wouldn’t change. He said Lee, Northview, Ogden and Theodore Roosevelt could start at the same time as the high school because they have the most significant number of students at school earlier.

At those schools, at least 90 percent of students arrive at least 15 minutes early. Brett Nelson and Shelley Aistrup, Marlatt and Northview principals, said during the Sept. 19 start times hearing that they supported an earlier elementary school day in order to harness the students’ early morning energy.

Pesaresi’s idea of some early start elementary times didn’t receive support from other board members. He characterized the programs for students who arrive early as babysitting, but board member Beth Tatarko disagreed.

Tatarko said homework and tutoring is being done during the early morning, and said it also provides an opportunity to eat breakfast.

“Feeding a child early in the morning is critical to their learning and how they perform that day,” she said.

With the times staying the same, Tatarko suggested taking up some ideas from the elementary principals to make early morning programs better.

Lee principal Nancy Kole told the board via email that negotiating to have a small percentage of teachers on duty at 8 a.m. could provide a chance for more activities rather than having students confined to the cafeteria.

Board member Pete Paukstelis said he has the same feelings about the education possibilities of switching times as Pesaresi, but didn’t see anything to make him certain of the impact for elementary students.

Parents mentioned during the Sept. 19 start times hearing that sleep studies and other information provided to the board only contained information about secondary students and not elementary students.

Paukstelis said he hadn’t received any conclusive evidence that earlier start times worked. “I know you believe that would help and I do too, but there’s no data right now that shows that,” he said to Pesaresi.

Board vice-president Curt Herrman, who expressed from the beginning his reservations about making children go to school earlier, said community members have made their feelings known on the subject.

“I think it was overwhelming in favor of leaving the schedule as is,” he said.

In a parent survey, 75.6 percent of 1,465 parents preferred to leave start times approximately the same. In an employee survey, 71 percent of 588 employees preferred to leave start times approximately the same. No groups of parents and employees representing any grade level expressed majority support for changing the times.

Supt. Bob Shannon said the survey was sent to every parent in the district, so there is a possibility of duplication if both parents voted the same. Still, he said he considered the data reliable, noting that it represents about 30 percent of the district’s parents.

Board member Darell Edie said the current times work because studies show that younger children need 10 to 12 hours of sleep and teenagers need 9 hours of sleep.

Board member Leah Fliter said an earlier elementary start time could work for parents. But she said the logistics of changing the high school to a later start time don’t work.

Board president Dave Colburn said he would support a change if the studies were the only factor. But his concern was that the changes would involve unintended negative consequences with negative effects.

District officials expressed concerns about some of those consequences. Transportation director Doug Messer said a start time switch would mean another five to seven routes added for dedicated Eisenhower Middle School routes.

He said it would also affect Manhattan Catholic Schools students, who wouldn’t have space to ride on the elementary school buses. The district is required to give those students a ride.

Mike Marsh, MHS athletic and activities director, said slates of boys and girls basketball games are mandated by Centennial League rules to start at 4:30 p.m., meaning opposing teams would be at MHS before school ends and the team would miss more school time during away games.

Marsh said the league’s other athletic directors had many issues with how things would work if MHS changed the school day from 8:47 a.m. to 4:04 p.m. It would have been the only school out of 10 schools to have that late.

“Their eyes about popped out when I said we might end at four o’clock in the afternoon,” he said.

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