District 50 plans to implement later start times for 2019-20 school year

Woodland Elementary District 50 plans to implement later school start times for the 2019-20 academic year, joining several other suburban districts that have made the change for students' health and well-being.

The decision gives District 50 more than a year to determine what the new schedule should be and how that change would affect its transportation costs.

"The evidence seems overwhelming that it's healthiest for kids to start school later than what it's been here, so we've got to try to do that," said Carolyn Waller Gordon, the district's communication manager.

Some health authorities, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, advocate starting middle school and high school classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to ensure students get enough sleep.

Currently, District 50's middle school students begin their day at 7:30 a.m.; fourth- and fifth-grade students begin at 8:10 a.m.; first-, second- and third-graders begin at 8:50 a.m.; and preschool and kindergarten children begin at 9:20 a.m.

If District 50 implements a start time change, it would join a larger movement among suburban school districts that have pushed start times later, including Stevenson and Barrington high schools and the various Northwest Suburban High School District 214 campuses. Some middle schools have shifted to a later start, too.

Gordon said the key to how the change will work in District 50 is transportation.

District 50 staggers start times so bus drivers can run multiple routes, which allows the district to lease fewer buses.

Last month, the district signed a $908,770 lease with Midwest Transit Company in Kankakee for 82 buses. The lease agreement is for five years and the number of buses the district leases can be renegotiated every year.

Gordon said the research the District 50 school board has reviewed suggests its middle school students should start their school day later in the morning. The board has not yet discussed specific start times.

She said the district will begin reaching out to the community and gauging feedback on start times.

"We want to take all of their opinions," Gordon said. "We mean to take our time with this."

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