St. Paul schools push for change in start times

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The latest push to change start times for students in St. Paul Public Schools will be up for a vote next week among school board members.

The board recently heard a final presentation from district administrators on the subject and will decide whether to direct the district to change start times beginning with 2018-19 school year. 

Officials cite research showing that later start times are beneficial for adolescent students, so the district’s current proposal is for middle and high school students to start at 8:30 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m.

Elementary school students would start at either 7:45 a.m. or 9:30 a.m.

Two high schools, Creative Arts and Johnson, have already adjusted start times as part of a pilot project.

“Students are coming in more alert, their absenteeism is down, tardiness is down,” said Steve Marchese, a St. Paul School Board member. “They seem to be more able to focus when they get into the building.”

But some parents are raising concerns about the proposal, signing petitions calling on the district to reconsider the plans. They feel the benefits of the later times for older students come at the expense of younger students.

“There's less data on elementary school students, but what data does exist suggests moving them earlier is detrimental,” said Paolo Provenzano, a parent who organized a petition. “There is concern about the effect that has on our child's education.”

Parents also cited concerns about child care before and after school and transportation.

District leaders said logistics would preclude a uniform start time for all students. The pilot program was only made possible because of a partnership with Metro Transit, allowing those students to utilize public transportation to travel back and forth to school.

There are also budget considerations. The plan would require at least $2 million in additional spending, mostly by ensuring bus routes for elementary students don’t start before 7 a.m.

“There are budget challenges that all Minnesota school districts are facing, and so this would require some difficult decisions on the part of the administration and the board, in order to find the funding needed in order to achieve that change,” said Jackie Statum Allen, assistant director of strategic planning and policy at St. Paul Public Schools.

School board members stressed at Tuesday’s meeting that their vote next week doesn’t bind them to a specific plan, which gives everyone involved time to come up with a solution that benefits all students.