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Bellingham schools consider changing start times

Students arrive for the first day of school at Lowell Elementary School on Aug. 26, 2015. Bellingham school officials are considering an earlier start time for elementary students and a later start time for high school students.
Students arrive for the first day of school at Lowell Elementary School on Aug. 26, 2015. Bellingham school officials are considering an earlier start time for elementary students and a later start time for high school students. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Elementary and high school starting times in the Bellingham school district could change starting in fall 2017.

The changes are still being discussed and a proposal could be released as early as next week, said Tanya Rowe, executive director of communications and community relations for the school district.

Superintendent Greg Baker said the change is being driven by the need to shift high schools to later start times. The American Academy of Pediatrics is one of the groups leading a national charge, saying middle and high school classes should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The association and medical studies have determined sleep cycles shift two hours later during puberty.

Early start times also are linked to lower overall grades, increased obesity and depression, and more car crashes from sleepy students driving.

“I think if you’re a parent and you have a high school student, that early morning is really tough,” Baker said in an interview. He also noted that elementary school kids are usually the ones up the earliest.

Really the push is to try to figure out how to get those high school students to start at a later time.

Superintendent Greg Baker

The possible changes were discussed in two videos sent to school families on March 10. In those, high school students interview Baker and Steve Clarke, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, about the possible changes.

Among the possibilities discussed in the videos:

▪  An 8 a.m. start time for elementary schools. They currently start at 8:30 a.m.

▪  Starting high schools at 8:30 a.m. instead of the current 7:45 a.m.

▪  Extending the high school day by 15 minutes, to make it 6 hours and 45 minutes.

▪  Expanding class offerings in high school.

▪  Changing the high school class scheduling. One option would be for students to take eight total classes, with four of them each day. This would increase focused instruction time and let students take advantage of more class offerings.

Baker and Clarke also talked about the impact on sports, after-school activities and homework load.

Baker said the district has been working on pushing back start times for the higher grades for more than three years. A proposal given to parents and students last spring received mixed reviews. One of the main sticking points was a 7:45 a.m. proposed start time for elementary students that many parents thought was too early. The district withdrew that plan; officials have spent the last year altering it in response to comments.

The proposed changes will be sent out to school families, who will be able to comment in many ways. . Rowe said an information meeting will be set, where parents can ask questions and make comments. The district also will be taking comments and suggestions.

Rowe emphasized that families would have plenty of time to prepare for any changes, because they wouldn’t take effect for a year and a half.

Baker believes families and staff will be excited for the changes and see the improvements from the 2015 plan.

“My hope is people will feel heard and respected and see we worked really hard to alleviate the concerns,” he said.

Debbie Townsend: 360-715-2280, @HeraldDT

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