LA PINE — Students in Bend-La Pine elementary schools will begin classes an hour earlier next fall while students in the district’s middle and high schools will start an hour later, under a new plan announced Tuesday by the school district.

Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, elementary school hours will run from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and middle and high school hours will run from 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., Bend-La Pine Superintendent Shay Mikalson told the school board during a meeting at Rosland Elementary in La Pine.

“Ultimately, we are changing school start times because it’s the right thing to do for our students,” Mikalson said. “A substantial body of research shows that the teenagers that we serve would biologically benefit from later start times.”

Brandi Borton, a parent of two students at La Pine High School, said she was excited for the later start times for secondary students.

“I think that really is the best thing for these kids who need more sleep,” she said.

Borton expressed concern about making sure high school and middle school students get on buses when some parents leave for work over an hour before the new 8:45 a.m. start time.

Cindy Sawyers said she wasn’t worried about earlier start times for her two children at La Pine Elementary School.

“I’m pretty OK with it; my kids are up at six o’clock every morning,” she said. “It’s not a big deal to me.”

In March, the district unveiled two options for school start times. The first was to stick with the current schedule: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for elementary schools; 7:45 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. for middle schools; and 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. for high schools. The second was to change school hours to those announced Tuesday.

The school district started questioning the school schedule in 2016, when it put together a 20-member committee of parents, staff and local business leaders to discuss and research the topic. According to a school district release, a majority of committee members supported having middle and high schools start later and elementary schools start earlier.

A survey was given to the public regarding school start times in April and May, and according to Mikalson, more than 5,000 people participated and 57 percent of respondents preferred to change school start times.

District staff also met with groups like the Bend Park & Recreation District, Boys and Girls Club and preschool programs in the spring to discuss how the changing start times would affect their programs.

The district announced the shift in school hours nearly a year before it would be implemented in order to give parents enough time to plan for the changes, Mikalson said.

The decision was supported by medical opinion and research. In February 2017, a pediatric hospitalist at St. Charles Bend, Dr. Suzanne Mendez, gave a letter to the school board signed by 33 local doctors and other health providers supporting later start times for middle and high schools.

A 2014 University of Minnesota study found that in high schools with start times no later than 8:05 a.m., 33 to 50 percent of students averaged eight hours of sleep per school night. But at schools with start times after 8:35 a.m., 57 to 66 percent of students got eight hours.

Another review from a national work group of medical experts published in December 2016 found mixed evidence that later start times translated to better grades or test scores, although it was associated with less tardiness and truancy, according to previous Bulletin coverage.

As of Oct. 1, there are 18,428 students enrolled in Bend-La Pine Schools.

—Reporter: 541-617-7854; jhogan@bendbulletin.com .

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