First start times proposal released to Jeffco School Board

The Jeffco School Board members will get a first look at what later school start times might look like at the Feb. 5 board study session. Members of the Start Time Task Force will present their proposals for later start times, standard length of day, and a minimum 30-minute lunch.

Their presentation will be joined by two other task forces: the Food & Nutrition Task Force and the Late Start Task Force. The first group made the original recommendation for a 30-minute lunch at all grade levels with a minimum of 20 minutes of seated lunch.

The Late Start Task Force hopes to implement a weekly late start/early release to increase collaborative teacher planning time. Their proposal includes addressing the issue through a weekly late start for either grades K-8 or K-12, or adding 45 minutes of collaborative planning time for K-8 only during student contact hours.

The Start Times Task Force is proposing three scenarios for later start times that could begin with the 2021-22 school year. In the scenarios, middle schools would start at 8 am or later and high schools would begin at 8:30 am or later.

In addition, the proposal includes a standardized school day of 6.5 hours for elementary schools, 7 hours for middle schools, and 7.5 hours for high schools throughout the district. The potential price tag for changing start times ranges from $1.2 million to $3.6 million in ongoing expenses for additional bus routes.

Currently, there is no board policy regarding length of lunch, school day, or number of instructional hours for schools. For example, some elementary schools have six instructional hours and some have five, explained Start Time Task Force co-chair Katie Winner.

In addition, Winner explained, there are currently 110 different start and end times across Jeffco’s 157 different schools. Teacher planning time also varies from school to school, as does the amount of time students have to eat lunch.

“This proposal provides things that only some students are getting,” Winner said. “Some schools have already pushed back their start time. Some are already providing teaching planning time. This is about getting it for all students in Jeffco.”

“If this is a proven community priority, then we need to make the Board of Education aware of the need and work together to fund it,” Winner said.

The Cherry Creek, Boulder Valley, Littleton, Brighton 27J, Thompson, and Greeley-Evans school districts have already moved to later start times for middle and high schools. Adams 12 is currently considering two options for later start times for their 2020-21 school year.

If a weekly late start moves forward, there is either a cost of $225,000 for student supervision for the K-12 model, or a cost of $627,000 for the K-8 model that includes an additional busing cost of $402,000. The proposal for extra collaborative time embedded in the school day would cost approximately $2 million for additional staff.

Thinking outside the bus

The biggest obstacle to changing start times in Jeffco is finding ways to rework bus routes, Winner explained.

As a result of the committee’s February 2019 recommendations, the Jeffco School Board approved hiring a consultant to assess financial and logistical hurdles.

That consultant, School Bus Logistics looked at transportation and recommendations for a 30-minute lunch from the Food and Nutrition Services Task Force.

School Bus Logistics used software to evaluate bus routes and to see if portions of routes could be combined with other routes for increased efficiency. The consultant was able to reduce 90 runs from schools using later start times.

3 scenarios for later start times

The committee and consultant have proposed three scenarios for later start times.

Under all three scenarios, no changes would be made to elementary school start times, other than in the mountain area. Some 5- or 10-minute adjustments may be needed to current elementary school times to better accommodate transportation with an articulation area, Winner said, but those changes would be minimal.

Scenario 1

Middle schools would begin on or after 8 am, high schools would start on or after 8:30 am, and elementary start times would stay the same.

To implement this option, Jeffco Schools would need to add 56 additional bus routes:

  • 7 bus routes to the north area
  • 4 routes to the central area
  • 8 routes to the south area
  • 37 routes to the west area (serving the mountain schools)

That would require an additional 50 buses at a cost of $5.5 million and an overall additional route cost of $3.64 million.

To implement this scenario, school board members would need to approve a one-time expense of $9.14 million to purchase the buses and add the additional routes, and commit to an ongoing expense of $3.64 million each year to finance the additional routes.

Scenario 2

In this option, start times for middle and high schools would still be on or after 8 am and 8:30 am, respectively, but start times for elementary schools in the west part of the district would change to 7:45 am.

This scenario would significantly reduce costs because it doesn’t require any additional routes for the west part of the district. Instead, only 19 additional routes would be added in the north, central, and south areas.

One-time costs for scenario two are estimated to be $3.33 million for the purchase of 19 additional buses and the cost to add those routes. Ongoing expenses for the additional routes would be $1.24 million.

Scenario 3

The third option keeps the same 8 am and 8:30 am or later start times for middle and high schools, respectively, while moving west elementary school start times to 9:30 am. The change would also mandate a 7-hour day for elementary school, ending at 4:30 pm.

That change also allows the district to continue using the current west bus fleet without additional routes.

The costs associated with the third scenario are the same as scenario two: $3.33 million in one-time expenses plus ongoing expenses of $1.24 million.

The on-going costs for the second and third scenario are lower than some considered in the Adams 12 School District, which is also currently considering moving start times. Two proposed scenarios in Adams 12 included ongoing costs of $1.8 to $2.3 million.

However, Adams 12 is considerably smaller than Jeffco, and different start times would only affect 49 neighborhood and magnet schools. At press time, Adams 12 was getting ready to decide between a third cost-neutral solution or keeping the current schedule.

In Jeffco, choosing either Scenario 2 or Scenario 3 would require working with the west area communities to determine whether an earlier elementary start time or later start time with a longer day is preferable.

Under all three scenarios, everyone currently getting service would continue receiving bus service. Additionally, no changes to current routes are proposed.

Studies demonstrate positive student outcomes with later start times

A recently-published study of later start times in the Cherry Creek School District found that academic engagement improved after the district moved middle and high school start times later in Fall 2017. The study also found that students got more sleep, reported less sleepiness while doing homework, and that there were minimal impacts to extracurricular participation.

Studies also show that later start times also benefit student mental health. A four-year study of later start times in a suburban Minneapolis school district found that high schoolers whose school day started at or after 8:30 am reported less depressive feelings than students whose day started earlier.

Later start times also were correlated with fewer teen motor vehicle crashes, with a drop of 16.5 percent in crash rates in the two years after start times were moved later, according to a 2008 study. In comparison, teen motor vehicle crashes in the rest of the area (where school start times remained the same), increased by 7.8 percent during that same period.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, and many other groups recommend that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 am.

So what happens next?

The Start Times Task Force is asking the school board to commit to changing start times for the 2021-22 school year. If the board decides to take action, the topic will be added to a regular board meeting agenda, likely sometime this spring.

If the Jeffco School Board approves moving forward, school leadership and staff will review the proposed times to make sure their school’s needs can be accommodated.

Timetables would be distributed to each school to see if schools need more time for testing, lunch, planning, or other activities within the standardized school day. That would allow individual schools to make local requests before the schedule is finalized.

If changes are needed, schools can work with the consultant to accommodate those needs within the larger structure of the articulation area.

For example, if a high school needs two additional minutes, the consultant might ask another school if it could extend its bell time an additional three minutes to accommodate transportation schedules, Winner said.

“It’s not locked in stone,” Winner said. “You have an opportunity to reimagine your entire school day.”

Currently, 54 percent of Jeffco high schools begin before 8 am, with some start times as early as 7:15 am.

Current district staff recommendations

The district staff is recommending “hold and explore” until funds are available for the ongoing costs or costs are mitigated. Translated, that means start times would remain the same unless additional funding comes from the state or a cost-neutral solution is found.

District staff are also recommending that a K-12 weekly late start plan be implemented at a cost of $225,000 in ongoing expenses for 2021-22. That would provide a weekly late start of 60 minutes at all K-12 schools to facilitate collaborative teacher planning time.

Any new budget items will need to be approved by the school board.

Staff recommendations also call for implementing a 20-minute seated student lunch as a standard policy for the 2021-22 year. That change could be implemented by Superintendent Jason Glass because it does not have a budget item tied to it.

The study session will be streamed live, and the start times presentation is estimated to start at approximately 10:15 am. The video will be archived for public viewing after the meeting.

The Start Times Task Force also created a set of FAQs regarding the current presentation, which is also available on their website.

Lisa Cook

Lisa Cook

Lisa Cook, Ph.D., is a writer, editor, musicologist and Jeffco resident since 1999 with two children attending Jeffco Schools. Lisa earned a BA from Valparaiso University, a Masters in Music from Colorado State University, and her Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Colorado at Boulder. When not working, she can be found running (ideally on mountain trails) with Midnight, her miniature poodle. Please visit our "About Us" page to learn more about Lisa and our other writers.