Juneau School District considers late start on Wednesdays

Juneau's Harborview Elementary School
Parents greet their children in front of Harborview Elementary School in Juneau at the end of the school day on Dec. 21, 2022. (Photo by Jennifer Pemberton/KTOO)

Juneau students could start school half an hour later on Wednesdays next school year if the school board approves a proposal by district administrators.

The late start would give teachers more time to work together without students. Administrators say it would help elementary school teachers meet the new requirements of the Alaska Reads Act, which include teacher training, student testing and contact with parents. It would also give middle and high school teachers more training and planning time.

“The research is really clear: we get the best educational outcomes when adults have time together without children,” Superintendent Bridget Weiss said at a school board meeting Tuesday.

The Alaska Reads Act, which goes into effect in July, is meant to improve reading proficiency by third grade. Board President Deedie Sorensen said she recognized the need for more training and prep time, but that many parents and teachers had told her they opposed the late start.

“I know how beneficial it was when I was a teacher and we were implementing new programs in our building, and we had the opportunity to actually think about it and work on it,” she said. “I haven’t heard from one person that thinks a late start is a grand idea.”

Virginia Behrends has four kids in the district. She told the board that putting the late start in the middle of the week would disrupt kids’ sleep schedules.

“Monday’s always hectic. After coming back from a weekend, the kids never want to get up,” she said. “Tuesday you finally get them going, and then Wednesday you’re going to say, ‘You can sleep in five more minutes, 10 more minutes,’ and then we’re going to go back on Thursday and do it again.”

Board member Elizabeth Siddon asked administrators to consider releasing students half an hour early once a week instead. But Ted Wilson, director of teaching and learning support for the district, said an early release could be disruptive to after school activities.

Board member Emil Mackey said either option would be hardest on working parents, who might have to adjust their work schedules and find additional child care. Wilson said the district may need to hire more staff for its child care program, which is already struggling to hire workers amid a citywide shortage.

Other board members asked whether the late start or early release could be reserved for elementary school, since the Alaska Reads Act only adds new requirements for younger grades. Weiss said there aren’t enough school buses to handle different schedules for just one group of schools.

Weiss said she’s seen late start times work in other districts. The key for either option, she said, is to do it every week.

“I’ve been in other districts where we did early release, and it was some weeks to try to minimize the impact,” she said. “It doesn’t last, because nobody can keep track if it’s this week or that week.”

The school board will discuss the proposal again, likely with changes from administrators, at its next meeting on June 13.

RELATED: Anchorage School Board votes to change school start times beginning in fall 2024

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