Plans to implement later school start times for middle and high schools continue to move forward. This fall, consulting company School Bus Logistics is drawing up models of what those changes could look like for Jeffco Schools. Jeffco hired the company in August to assess the financial and logistical hurdles involved in changing start times.
The move stems from recommendations presented in February by Jeffco’s School Start Time Task Force to adjust middle and high school start times later, ideally after 8 am.
However, multiple questions remained. Among them: how later start times will impact bus transportation, elementary and preschool start times, school activities and athletics. In addition, will a districtwide change to start times cost the district money?
Jeffco has never completed a comprehensive logistical and financial study of school start times, said Katie Winner, School Start Times Task Force co-chair. As a result, the task force was unable to estimate potential costs or impacts.
“I don’t feel I have a thorough understanding of the impacts that will happen to transportation, elementary school schedules, work, and after-school activities,” board member Amanda Stevens told the task force at the February meeting. “I believe in this change, but I believe we need to make this change really well so it doesn’t have repercussions.”
Board member Brad Rupert echoed Stevens’ comments.
“I honestly don’t think we can responsibly make any decision unless we know what the real costs are. I need to know, are we going to need to hire more bus drivers and have more buses? Are we going to spend more for the facilities for after-school projects? You can’t make a decision like this without asking what the real costs are and how it fits into our ongoing budget,” Rupert said.
“It’s not ready for a decision because we don’t know what the cost is,” Rupert said.
To keep the proposal moving forward, school board members approved a $70,000 one-time expense from the district’s general fund to fund a bell time study consultant, based on a suggestion from district administration. Now School Bus Logistics will evaluate all of the logistics, transportation, and financial impacts involved in moving start times.
Consultant to work out multiple logistics, present models
Jeffco hired School Bus Logistics in August to carry out the start times work. School Bus Logistics CEO Robert Jacobus, has previously worked with the Littleton, Denver, Cherry Creek and Aurora school districts.
School Bus Logistics will analyze multiple issues, including bus transportation, school day length and teacher planning time. The work also includes a placeholder of 30 minutes for lunch each day.
In addition, School Bus Logistics will incorporate planning for additional issues that affect when schools start their days. One critical element is route optimization to address Jeffco’s ongoing bus driver shortage.
As of Sept. 26, the district was still seeking to hire 42 drivers for current bus routes, Jacobus said.
In a recent email to the task force, Laura Johnson, task force co-chair, reported that the consultant had begun work to formulate the potential logistical changes to bus routes with the preferred start times of the task force.
They anticipate having rough draft ideas and plans from the consultant in a few weeks, the task force email said.
The task force will make consensus-based recommendations based on the models and data provided by School Bus Logistics. They hope to present those recommendations to the school board this winter.
Details regarding how and when feedback about the models might be collected from school communities have not been decided yet.
The task force is fully transparent with all of its information on its website, Winner said, including all correspondence and meeting minutes. Citizens are also welcome to apply to join the task force during its second year of work.
The Jeffco School Board will make decisions about any changes for the 2020-21 school year by early spring.
School Start Time Task Force recommendations
At the Jeffco School Board’s Feb. 7 meeting, the task force made two recommendations. They recommended that middle schools start no earlier than 8 am and high schools no earlier than 8:30 am.
“The task force preferred that no school start before 8:30 am,” Winner explained. “We made these recommendations taking into account feedback from the Jeffco community.”
Currently, individual schools can work with the transportation department to change start times, Winner said. Schools can only move start times if the change doesn’t impact transportation costs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Medical Association all recommend that schools start no earlier than 8:30 am. The AAP specifically notes that start times are a key contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among middle and high school students.
The AAP also notes that later start times have “a wide range of potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement.”
“You can’t be successful if you’re not awake,” Winner said.
Today, 54% of Jeffco high schools start before 8 am
Some Jeffco schools have already moved their start times later, but others are more constrained by bus schedules. In 2018-19, only 6 of Jeffco’s 22 high schools started at or after 8 am.
This year, that number of high school starting at or after 8 am has increased to 10. Four schools moved to an 8 am or later start. Two other high schools moved their start times later, but still begin before 8 am.
“We know some schools have made changes to start times, but we also know that some of our schools are starting very early,” Winner said. According to the task force work, middle schools seem to be the most impacted.
For example, one of Winner’s middle-school aged children catches his bus at 6:45. His first class begins at 7:15 am.
The task force, composed of 50 Jeffco community members, presented their school start time recommendations after spending a year studying school start time research and what neighboring school districts were doing. The task force also did a survey that demonstrated the Jeffco community was interested in changing start times for middle and high schools.
Boulder Valley School District moved high school start times for the 2019-20 school year. Now, all high schools begin at 8:30 am and end at 4:05 pm. Last year, Boulder’s high schools started between 7:30 and 8 am.
Other neighboring school districts have also moved to later high school start times. Those include Cherry Creek, Littleton, and the Poudre School District.