Naperville Dist. 203 sees value in later school start times

  • Dan Bridges, superintendent of Naperville Unit District 203, shares survey results that show a majority of 14,656 respondents think later start times for high school and junior high students would benefit the kids' health and sleep.

      Dan Bridges, superintendent of Naperville Unit District 203, shares survey results that show a majority of 14,656 respondents think later start times for high school and junior high students would benefit the kids' health and sleep. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 11/17/2016 1:27 PM

Starting junior high and high school classes later in the day could benefit students' health and sleep, according to a majority of respondents to a survey conducted by Naperville Unit District 203.

But implementing a later start for students in sixth through 12th grades could cause logistical challenges that have parents wondering about effects on bus transportation, traffic, extracurricular activities and school/life balance.

 

The district conducted a survey Oct. 4 through 18 asking parents, junior high and high school students, employees and community members if there should be adjustments to the school day or school calendar. Officials invited 15,000 people to complete the survey voluntarily instead of choosing a random sample to ensure they received enough responses from each stakeholder group.

Research from organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, shows later start times could be beneficial for the sleep habits and development of teenagers, which is part of the reason the district commissioned the survey, Superintendent Dan Bridges said.

Bridges presented results to a crowd of about 175 Thursday morning, noting there appears to be support for starting classes at Naperville Central and Naperville North at 8:30 a.m. instead of 7:45 a.m.

Among 14,656 total survey respondents, 93 percent of students, 79 percent of parents of current students and 76 percent of employees said starting high school at 8:30 would "have a positive impact on students' health."

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Eighty-seven percent of students said they support or strongly support moving back the start time, while support from other groups ranged from 53 percent among employees to 72 percent among parents of future students.

The results were similar at the junior high level. At least 58 percent of parents, students and community members said they support or strongly support moving the start time to 8:30 a.m. from 8 a.m.

The results don't necessarily mean a schedule change is imminent, Bridges said. The district first must consider what other factors might need to change to accommodate a later start, such as shortening lunch periods, decreasing the length of all class periods and ending classes closer to 3:30 p.m. instead of 3:10.

While many parents at a community engagement session Thursday said students' physical and mental well-being are the most important, others said the need to maximize instructional time and strengthen academics are top priorities. Parents said they wondered what would happen to bus times and bus costs if several levels of school were to start and end at the same or similar times.

And then there was the domino effect question -- if school starts later, after-school activities start later, buses get students home later and the same amount of homework is given, will kids simply go to bed later and get the same deficient amount of sleep, just at different times?

Bridges said administrators will take these concerns into account as they continue a "deliberate, thoughtful" process of reviewing the survey data. Administrators could bring suggested changes to the school board in January.

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