Community feedback sought on school start times topic

The Fayetteville-Manlius School District is continuing its study of modifying school start times and will soon be asking students, parents and community members for feedback.

The district has been working with Daniel Lewin of the Children’s National Health System, which is based in Washington D.C. and specializes in a range of pediatric services and research, including sleep as it relates to school start times. The F-M Board of Education tasked Lewin and his colleagues to explore the potential benefits and challenges associated with changing school start times.

What’s the issue?

Many school districts across the country, including Fayetteville-Manlius, are investigating changing their school start times so that high school students start classes later. Biological sleep patterns shift toward later times for both sleeping and waking during adolescence, meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11 p.m., according to the National Sleep Foundation. And teens need about 8-10 hours of sleep each night to function their best, according to the foundation.

At F-M, the high school starts at 7:45 a.m. The two middle schools each start at 8 a.m. and the three elementary schools begin at 8:45 a.m., in part because the F-M bus fleet is dispatched in three distinct intervals (high school, middle school and elementary runs).

In 2016, the American Medical Association issued a policy statement that middle and high school start times begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The F-M High School Site-Based Team, which is made up of parents, teachers, administrators and students, brought the issue to the F-M Board of Education, asking for a district-wide study related to start times.

Input needed

In April, Lewin and his colleagues conducted 34 interviews and group discussions with a number of stakeholders—including students, staff, parents and board members— to inform their study and identify common themes and issues. While the majority seemed in favor of the change based on the documented research related to healthy start times, there were concerns identified with such topics as child care, athletics and after-school programming.

To gain further feedback, the consultants plan to release a survey in early autumn to stakeholders and the greater community. Lewin and his colleagues will then use the survey feedback to shape and guide discussions that will be held at community forums, which are tentatively planned to be held in late autumn.

The group expects to present in November a final report to the board, which will then review and discuss the findings before making a decision on whether to move forward with modifying school start times.