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High school district considering later start time for students

Most high school students in Nevada County are used to an early wake-up call on school days, often catching the bus or hopping in the car as dawn breaks to be in their seats when the first bell rings at 7:30 a.m.

But Nevada Joint Union High School District officials are considering moving that first bell back to 8:30 a.m. in an effort to make sure students are better rested during the school day.

The discussion has been on the district’s radar for years, said district Superintendent Louise Johnson, but was reignited by a statement released last August from the American Academy of Pediatrics that stressed early school start times (those before 8:30 a.m.) as a key contributor to insufficient sleep among young people.



The statement also reiterated the physical and mental health benefits that result from starting the school day later.

“First period, they’re always asleep. You’re doing your thing, teaching your kids and it’s like, ‘Hey, is anybody out there? Good morning, talk to me.’”District Superintendent Louise Johnson

That statement merely reinforced something Johnson said teachers of first-period high school classes already know about their students.




“First period, they’re always asleep,” Johnson said. “You’re doing your thing, teaching your kids and it’s like, ‘Hey, is anybody out there? Good morning, talk to me.’”

She said the discussion of a later start time was also prompted by those who know just how hard it is to get students out of bed and off to school in the morning.

“It’s been going on for a very long time that parents have been concerned about a very early start time,” Johnson said.

Any change in school start time would affect Bear River and Nevada Union high schools, Johnson said, noting that Ghidotti Early College High School is tied to a schedule with Sierra College, Silver Springs High School already starts at 8 a.m. and North Point Academy is an independent study school.

Discussions about the schedule change are very preliminary, Johnson said. At the district’s April 8 board meeting, trustees agreed they’d like the district to keep exploring the option of a later first bell.

Trustee Linda Campbell noted that Nevada Union has had an early start time since she was a student there in the 1980s.

“Maybe it’s time to look toward the future,” Campbell said.

However, delaying the first bell at Bear River and Nevada Union would cost the district. Currently, the district shares buses, bus routes and bus drivers with the Grass Valley and Pleasant Ridge Union school districts, where students start later in the morning.

Johnson said if the high school district adopts a later schedule, it will have to pay for its own bus services, which would cost the district an estimated extra $145,000.

That expenditure is a big consideration for the district, Johnson said.

“We only have so much money,” Johnson said. “You can only spend a dollar once. Is this the item to spend money on this or should we spend it elsewhere?”

A later start would also mean a later end to the school day for students participating in athletics or other after-school activities, she said.

However, Johnson noted that an 8:30 a.m. bell would allow both schools to remain competitive with charter schools in the area that offer a similar schedule. And it may have another benefit as well.

District Assistant Superintendent Karen Suenram told the board at its April 8 meeting that the district has examined research based on other schools that have altered their start times, and said one of the benefits seems to be increased attendance.

District attendance is the main factor the state looks at in determining funding, Suenram said.

“We get paid based on students in their seats,” Suenram said. “We expect, based on research, that percentage of attendance would increase, which increases our revenue.”

With the board’s go-ahead, the district will continue to solicit feedback from staff, parents and students.

Johnson said a district parent group recently sent out a survey to parents. The survey did not associate any potential cost to the district related to a schedule change, but simply asked parents to rate a later school start time among five education-related priorities.

Johnson said about half the parents rated a later start as their top priority, and about half rated it as their lowest priority.

The district did hear some feedback from students, parents and staff during its April 8 board meeting.

Bear River student Emily Raymond said she and her peers had discussed a later start time in their leadership class at school, and many were in favor of the change, although she noted they would prefer an 8 a.m. bell instead of one at 8:30 a.m.

She said a slightly later start time would be beneficial to students like her, who are involved in several after-school activities and log long hours on campus.

“It’s really hard not having any sleep after being at school on some nights for 14 hours,” Raymond said.

Parent Bethany Wilson noted that her son, who attends Nevada Union, gets up around 5 a.m. on school days. She said she notices that he’s exhausted by the time he gets home and finishes his homework.

“The late start would really impact him positively,” Wilson said.

Johnson said the district will work to collect more comprehensive feedback in the coming months before any formal decisions are made.

While any change to the district’s bell schedule could be implemented for the 2015-2016 school year, Johnson said the district will also consider building any changes into the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan — a state-mandated plan that requires districts to outline goals and how they plan to meet them — to take effect further in the future.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email elavin@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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