Anchorage School Board reconsiders change to start times

A school bus departs Kasuun Elementary School on May 9, 2023 (Tim Rockey/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage school start times could be rearranged under a proposal the school board is considering, and possibly voting on, at its meeting Tuesday night.

It’s the second such effort by the Anchorage School District in the past seven years and follows the guidance of researchers, who say middle and high school students should start classes later in the morning.

But some parents say the change would be disruptive to family schedules already built around current school start and end times. After the Anchorage School Board voted down a similar proposal in 2018, it remains uncertain how board members will vote this time around.

Currently, Anchorage high school students start school at 7:30 a.m., followed by middle schoolers at 8:15 a.m. and elementary schoolers at 9 a.m.

The recommended schedule included in the school board’s agenda would see elementary school students begin class at 8 a.m., followed by high school at 8:45 a.m. and middle school at 9:30 a.m.

Hired by the district to consult on the issue, school demographer and management consultant Shannon Bingham said that many school districts nationwide decided to make the change following 2014 guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics that said middle school and high school students should begin class after 8:30 a.m.

Bingham said that a second wave of school districts began implementing later school start times for older students following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There was a re-engagement of school districts interested in this, because so many children have emerged from the pandemic troubled with various wellness issues,” Bingham said.

Among the potential outcomes of the change are longer sleep times for older students, as well as their parents, resulting in mental and physical health benefits, according to Lisa Meltzer, a pediatric psychologist who specializes in sleep medicine. In a presentation to the Anchorage School Board in February, Meltzer discussed the findings from her study of a Colorado school district that made the change. 

Meltzer said student and parent sleep habits improved, and car crashes involving student drivers decreased.

“It’s not easy. Change is hard. It affects a lot of people but again the benefits so far outweigh the consequences of the changes and people adapt,” Meltzer said.

Still, parents of elementary school students are unsure how the change would positively impact their families. Randy Guintu has a 5-year-old in the district and is not convinced on the potential benefits to students.

“Based on the people I’ve talked to, I think most people are opposed to this proposed change,” Guintu said. “I think the people that are going to suffer the most are the people with kids that are in elementary school.”

Guintu is not alone, as other parents have spoken out against the plan.

Bingham, the consultant, is concerned about the changes for older students who play sports, have jobs or have childcare responsibilities for their younger siblings.

Support and opposition to the plan appears to be evenly split.

According to a school district survey that received about 800 responses from parents, half agreed that middle and high school students should start later and that an earlier start for elementary students would not be harmful.

Carrie Harris, a mother of three school-age children, including an elementary schooler, is among the supporters.

“I think that anything that increases, that improves the students’ headspace just to be more engaged and active and be able to pay attention better and do whatever it is they’re doing in whatever class they’re in, I’m all for it,” Harris said.

At least one school board member is also in favor.

“I think that it’s a good thing,” Board President Margo Bellamy said at the February meeting. “We get to look at it with fresh eyes and fresh ears and knowing that the data shows that it’s good for kids and adults.” 

Dave Donley and Andy Holleman are the only current Anchorage School Board members who voted on the 2018 proposal, and both voted against changing school start times. It remains unclear how any of the board members might vote on the new proposal, as they either declined to comment or did not respond to questions.

The board is set to discuss the plan and hear more public testimony at its Tuesday meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.

a portrait of a man outside

Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education for Alaska Public Media. Reach him attrockey@alaskapublic.orgor 907-550-8487. Read more about Timhere

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