All 1,100 students in Sisters School District could be starting their school day 30 minutes later next school year.

Superintendent Curtiss Scholl said the district is considering starting all three of its schools — Sisters high, middle and elementary — at 8:30 a.m. beginning in September, citing research that adolescents benefit from sleeping in.

“It’s pretty overwhelming, the benefits of a later start time,” Scholl said at a Sisters School Board meeting Wednesday night.

On Wednesdays, when schools begin classes at 9 a.m., start times would be moved a half hour later to 9:30 a.m., Scholl said.

Scholl said the school district surveyed community members and district staff and received nearly 550 responses, with 71 percent approving a later start to the school day. Typically, school district surveys receive only 200 to 300 responses, he added.

The decision to change the school day schedule is up to Scholl. He told the board Wednesday he was hoping for their vote of confidence at the next board meeting April 10.

In October, Bend-La Pine Superintendent Shay Mikalson made a similar decision for his school district: starting next school year, middle and high school students will start class an hour later, and elementary students will start classes an hour earlier.

However, because Sisters School District only has one school bus for all three schools, the elementary school will also start later in the school day to maintain the bus route. During the meeting, Scholl said there wasn’t any research that showed that later start times had a negative or positive effect on younger students.

Sisters High School Principal Joe Hosang said he agreed that research supports having teenagers start school later, but he was unsure how it would affect the district’s elementary students.

“I’m in favor of it for the adolescents,” he said. “I don’t know all the research for everybody.”

Research published in 2014 by the American Psychological Association found that middle- and upper-class elementary school students in Kentucky performed worse academically with earlier start times. However, according to The Washington Post, a Maryland school district decided to start school days later across the board in 2017, which resulted in complaints from elementary school staff about parents dropping their kids off too early before school and students getting drowsy at the end of the day. Parents of teenagers, however, strongly supported the later start times. In this district, elementary schools started at 9 or 9:25 a.m., versus the proposed 8:30 a.m. start in Sisters.

Chris Frye, a Sisters resident who has kids in 10th, ninth and second grade in the district, said later start times were worth looking into, but he was concerned about parents like himself who start jobs earlier in the day. Frye is an estimator for Webfoot Painting & Carpentry.

“I’ve read a lot that says later start times are good for kids, because they need to sleep,” he said. “I know it’s also sometimes problematic for parents who have to be at work at 8 or 7:30. How are they going to get their kids ready?”

During the school board meeting, none of the school board members voiced a firmly positive or negative reaction to later start times. On Thursday, board member Stephen King said he liked the idea, although he felt parents who worked early should be supported.

“I think its a great idea for the high school and given our situation, as a small district, (it) makes sense to move the other schools in sync,” King wrote in an email. “We need to be cognizant of parents who need to get to work and have (the) ability for early drop off.”

Board member Jay Wilkins said Thursday he was “leaning towards” approving the start time shift, but he wanted to know the reasons why some in the survey disapproved.

“Twenty-five to 28 percent of the people surveyed were opposed to a later start,” he said. “The (71 percent in approval) certainly gives me some confidence in supporting the idea, but I want to understand why the other quarter or so doesn’t support it.”

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

Scholl said during the meeting that if later school start times were made official next month, the district would decide afterward whether or not to extend the end of the school day by 30 minutes, as well.

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

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