OCPS considering new school start times

Orange County could transition to later start times across the board to give high schoolers more sleep.

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  • | 9:15 p.m. September 25, 2019
Local leaders are considering high schools starting later.
Local leaders are considering high schools starting later.
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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A public input process is underway as Orange County Public Schools considers moving high school start times to later in the morning — a potential change to help high schoolers feel more rested for classes.

West Orange residents had a chance to hear from OCPS and voice their questions and concerns regarding possible new school start-time models at a public meeting Thursday, Sept. 19, at Ocoee High School.

According to a study by Amy R. Wolfson and Mary A. Carskadon cited by the National Sleep Foundation, teens are among those least likely to get enough sleep. Despite needing an average of 9.25 hours of sleep per night for optimal performance, health and brain development, teens average fewer than seven hours per school night by the end of high school.

A study by Pamela McKeever of Central Connecticut State University and her colleague, Linda Clark, found that pushing back high-school start times to 8:30 a.m. can improve graduation and attendance rates.

McKeever and Clark compared the rates of 29 high schools across seven states before and after the schools implemented a delayed starting time. The average graduation rate jumped from 79% to 88%, and the average attendance rate went from 90% to 94%.

“The research is very clear that later start times are better for the adolescent minds — that’s why we’re even looking at this again,” District 7 Orange County School Board Member Melissa Byrd said. “We wanted to, as a new board, look at the issue again.”



Today, Orange County’s high schools start classes at 7:20 a.m., elementary and K8 schools start at 8:45 a.m., elementary schools with an extra hour of reading start at 8:15 a.m. and middle school start up at 9:30 a.m. — a current schedule that OCPS is referring to as Model A.

Leaders at OCPS have come up with three new schedules for all three levels of schools.

Model B would move the start time of high schools, elementary schools, K8 schools and middle schools later by 20 minutes.

Model C takes things a step further by moving start times later by 40 minutes, with high schools starting at 8 a.m., elementary and K8 schools starting at 9:25 a.m., elementary schools with an extra hour of reading start at 8:55 a.m. and middle schools starting at 10:10 a.m.

The last option is Model D, which would have elementary schools starting the earliest. All elementary and K8 schools would start at 8 a.m., high schools would start at 8:45 a.m. and middle schools would start at 10:15 a.m.

Bill Wen, senior director of Transportation Services for OCPS, said certain schools that are within close proximity to each other still will see staggered start times to avoid traffic problems. One example of this is Westpointe Elementary and MetroWest Elementary — one of the schools will start 30 minutes later than the other, Wen said.

He added that the different models all are cost neutral — based on the number of buses and drivers OCPS currently has.

“The goal was to provide models that maximized the use of our buses and also keep the cost at a minimum,” Wen said. “In the past, there were models that were created that add a significant cost for additional buses and drivers. Due to budgetary constraints, those models were eliminated from consideration.”

Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said one of the main reasons OCPS has presented four models was because of “the flip” that took place back in 2008, when middle schools and high schools switched start times. The change only lasted for a year, as it wasn’t well-received, and it was reverted back to the original schedule.

Providing more options was the best move, she said.

“The board has a real challenge: Can you find the right compromise that the community will support that will stick?” Jenkins said. “It’s a difficult decision that the board has to make.”

Juliet Sheffer, a parent of elementary school children who attended the Ocoee High School meeting, said OCPS needs more money for buses and drivers instead of shifting the schedule of all the schools.

“Honestly, I think staying where we are is what’s going to work the best,” Sheffer said. “I do think that high school kids going to school in the morning in the dark is a concern, but with the current model as presented, I don’t think there are any better solutions.”

“We need our taxpayers to lobby the state to give our schools more money.”

Marni Weisbecker, who has three children in elementary school, also attended the Ocoee High School meeting.

“To have an 11-year-old leave school and walking home in the dark, perhaps on the West Orange Trail, and not getting home until 5:30 in the evenings … is a huge concern,” Weisbecker said.

“I do think moving, perhaps, elementary start times earlier is not a bad idea — the kids are up early anyway. Putting an elementary start time at 8 o’clock isn’t that huge of a thing — to even swap a middle school and an elementary start time would even work a little bit.” 

Another public meeting is set to take place at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30 at the Olympia High School media center, and some parents are already pondering the different start-time models.

Olympia High School parent Terri Hrynyk said she didn’t like how the changes would possibly affect middle-school children.

“I’m trying to look at it from the perspective of not just myself,” Hrynyk said. “Selfishly, sure, it would be nice to get my child a little more time to sleep in, but when I look at the choices together and how it affects middle-school kids, it concerns me. … I just don’t see how the benefit of high-school kids getting more time in the morning justifies what the middle-school kids have to do. Moving their time back later … I don’t see how it’s fair.”

Sally Anthony, who has two children attending Olympia High School, said she supported Model B, which would move the start time later by 20 minutes.

“I just think, at that age, they need their sleep,” Anthony said. 

“They are extremely groggy in the morning. … Both of my kids do sports after school, so they’re not home until 5 or 5:30 every day and then they’re both in the APEX program at Olympia, which is a rigorous academic program. They’re up late doing homework. I think the 20 minutes would help.”

Jenkins said the public input process will continue until OCPS meets in mid-November to discuss the data of a survey and comments from the public. A final decision would need to be made by January or February in order to have a new schedule in place for the 2020-21 school year, Jenkins said.


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