February, with only 28 days, is the shortest month of the year, but in 2020 we will enjoy an extra day due to leap year. It’s interesting how we “adjust” time to balance the calendar or maximize the day as we do twice a year in the spring and fall for daylight saving time. Making these changes may not have always been the norm, but there are many benefits to taking these actions.
This same reasoning is behind the discussion to look at the start and end times for our school day. Actually, this discussion took place several years ago, but now additional research on teen sleep rhythms and more school districts changing start times has made this a relevant topic for further consideration.
Nationally, the discussion on start times is focused on starting high schools later to align with teen sleep patterns. It’s not just about the amount of time teens spend sleeping, rather adolescent brain function and body rhythms are more alert during a later time period of the day. Many high schools, including a few local high schools, have moved start times to after 8:00 a.m. California recently passed a law requiring all high schools to start after 8:30 a.m. Most high schools in the U.S., including those in Michigan, start between 7:00 and 7:45 a.m.
Of course changing high school start times in Dearborn couldn’t be done unless the start times of elementary and/or middle school were also adjusted. This is due to several factors including the three-tier busing system used in the district.
Busing schedules are just one of many logistical items that will need to be part of any discussion on changing high school start times. Other considerations include after-school activities, family obligations, dual enrollment schedules, student work responsibilities, and honoring current union contract language. All of these items are important issues, but should not prevent a thoughtful examination of changing start times.
Looking at school start times is in the very early phases of discussion, and our administrative team has started collecting data and information that will help the Board of Education in developing a plan to engage the community in the months ahead. Some may argue that this change cannot wait and needs to be implemented as soon as possible. However, all parents, students, and staff will be affected by any change to school start times, so input from all of these groups needs to be a part of any discussion and eventual plan. Given the complexity of changing school start times, it is highly unlikely any final plan would be developed by the start of the 2020-21 school year.
Students in the Dearborn Public Schools have had a great deal of success as demonstrated by the increased graduation rates, the selection of three schools as National Blue Ribbon Schools, and several other academic accomplishments throughout the district. In order for our students to continue to excel, we as a community must be willing to explore sound educational practices that support student achievement at all levels. Adjusting school start times needs to be part of that exploration.
Glenn Maleyko, Ph.D.
Superintendent, Dearborn Public Schools