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Elementary parents worry about start times

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Proposal would send district's youngest students to class more than an hour earlier than they're used to


REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Youngsters line up in the spring for a bus that got them to River Grove Elementary School by 9:10 a.m. The district's youngest students will start school more than an hour earlier if a task forces proposal is adopted.Parents of elementary school students told the Lake Oswego School Board this week that they're not happy about a School Start-Time Task Force's recommendation that would send their children to class when it's still dark outside.

More than 10 parents attended the board's meeting Tuesday night, but not all of them got a chance to speak. Board members halted the meeting after less than 30 minutes as fat, wet snowflakes began to cling to the ground outside, the start of a massive snowstorm that would bury homes and knock down trees and power lines.

Still, the board devoted most of the abbreviated meeting to listening to parents, who expressed concern over the Task Force's proposal to start K-5 classes earlier and grades 6-12 later than current schedules.

Megan Gabriel-Hastings told the board she has a kindergartner and a fourth-grader at Oak Creek Elementary, where many students walk to school. Gabriel-Hastings said there are no longer crossing guards at the school to guide children across the street.

"Now they're going to cross in the dark with no crossing guards," she said.

After months of research, discussion and public input, the Start-Time Task Force was slated to present its recommendations to the board Tuesday. That presentation has been rescheduled for 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18 (updated from earlier this week), but the proposal itself was released to the community through the district's electronic newsletter last week.

The Task Force, led by LOSD Executive Director of School Management Michael Musick, has recommended that start times move to 8:25 a.m. for junior highs and high schools and to 8 a.m. for elementary schools. Currently, the high schools start at 7:35 a.m., the junior highs start at 7:55 a.m. and the elementary schools start at 9:10 a.m.

In order for all of the schools to start at 8:30 a.m. or later, the Task Force says, the district would have to increase the number of buses it uses from 47 to 75 — a big increase in costs.

The recommendations also include moving the Elementary and Beginning strings programs, which are currently held at Uplands Elementary in the morning before class, to the afternoon to make sure there are enough buses. After-school and athletic activities would need to readjust schedules as well.

If approved, the changes would go into effect in the 2017-18 school year. But board members made it clear that they are not even close to making a decision.

"The report on school start times will be presented and discussed by the board and the Task Force as the initial step," board member John Wendland told The Review on Wednesday. "Public and parent comment time as well as further discussion by the board will be held at future meetings in January and February before any decision is reached."

There is a lot to discuss, including reams of research and months of study by the Task Force. For example, the group's report references studies indicating that from age 13-25, people need more sleep and are more prone to "sleepiness" the next day if they get insufficient rest.

That can contribute to dangerous driving and can also impact test scores and emotional behaviors, the report says.

Musick told The Review late last year that research — some of it dating to the early 2000s — indicates teenagers are physiologically predisposed to falling asleep between 10 p.m. and midnight. That means teens won't go to sleep earlier, he said, even if they have to wake up earlier — and therefore, they simply won't get enough sleep.

"You can't train them to go to sleep at 9 p.m.," he said.

Musick also told the board at a previous meeting that elementary-age kids have a different biological clock than older kids. "There's a sweet spot somewhere between 7:50 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. for elementary" to start class, Musick said.

The School Board originally asked district administrators to look into changing start times during the 2009-10 school year. But that was during the Great Recession, when the district was short on funds and in the process of downsizing and eliminating programs. There were too many "competing concerns," according to the Task Force's report.

But with the Great Recession in the rear-view mirror, the Task Force took up the issue again this fall, meeting for the first time Sept. 22 and sending its recommendations to the superintendent in December. The final report was submitted to the board this month.

The Task Force was created with the intent to represent the entire community. It includes principals, teachers, staff and parents representing grades pre-K through 12 and from both sides of Oswego Lake, Musick said. Three elementary principals, one junior high principal, both high school principals and the performance arts staff are among the members.

The Task Force not only looked at research, but also met with experts and administered an online forum called ThoughtExchange to gauge public opinion. Many of the 2,978 ThoughtExchange participants showed a preference for starting secondary schools later. But some parents said they didn't realize that doing so would require making adjustments to bus schedules that could also result in an earlier start time for elementary schools.

Parent Hayley Platt said she and many other parents were initially confused by a ThoughtExchange invitation because they hadn't realized a later start time for junior high and high school kids would mean an earlier start time for elementary schools. At first, "we didn't think it applied to us," she told the board on Tuesday.

Now that more people understand, she said, they want to weigh in.

Platt, who has a kindergartener and a second grader at Westridge, said she wants the elementary community to have time to discuss and look into the start times further before the board reaches a decision.

"We want to make sure we have time to gather our own research," she said, "and the time to raise concerns about the issue."

Contact Lake Oswego Review reporter Jillian Daley at 503-636-1281 ext. 109 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

LEARN MORE

View the full Lake Oswego School Start-Time Task Force report here: www.tinyurl.com/LOSD-Start-Time-report.

For the full results of the ThoughtExchange online forum, visit www.losd.thoughtexchange.com.