The Anchorage School District is again looking into changing when students start their class days.
During a work session Monday, school board officials heard a presentation from consultant Shannon Bingham on the research and potential benefits to changing school start times. Bingham worked with the district when it considered changing start times in 2018. The school board voted down a proposal to change start times that year, but Bingham said the issue has remained important post-pandemic.
“A lot of districts are looking at anything they could do to try to improve the mental health of high school and middle school students,” Bingham said. “And so the start time issue continues to be relevant.”
The 2018 proposal rejected by the school board t would’ve had high school days start 30 minutes later, from 7 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Elementary schools would’ve started at 8:45 a.m., 15 minutes earlier. Middle schools would’ve had the largest shift, pushing start times back 75 minutes to 9:30 a.m.
Bingham told the board Monday that there’s general consensus on the benefits of later start times for middle and high schoolers, but the research on the impact to elementary school students is more mixed. He said Alaska faces the additional challenge of significantly decreased sunlight in the winter, compared to other school districts in the U.S.
Member Andy Holleman, who voted no on the 2018 proposal, said at the time, there was concern over how disruptive the changes in start times would be for families, and whether they would positively impact learning.
“The more radical changes would be really disruptive,” Holleman said. “And then that came back to we could move it by half an hour and it wouldn’t be very disruptive, but it also wouldn’t make much difference.”
Member Kelly Lessens said she doesn’t think the disruption would be too much. She said there’s recent precedent with elementary school start times starting 30 minutes later when schools moved back to in-person learning.
“Parents will adapt to whatever the reality is,” Lessens said. “I think our job is to do the best we can to support student learning. We have board outcomes that we expect for improved reading and math proficiency, and I think this is a path to get us there.”
Board members did not take any action on changing start times on Monday, and school district officials say they will continue researching potential impacts and outcomes before making any formal recommendation to the board.