Anchorage School Board votes against changing start times next year

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The Anchorage School Board overwhelmingly rejected a proposal late Monday to change school start times next year.

The decision came after roughly a year of discussions, community meetings, surveys, a consultant-led study of the start-time issue and a recommendation from Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop to shift students' schedules.

Bishop recommended in August that high schools start and end 30 minutes later; middle schools start and end one hour and 15 minutes later; and elementary schools start and end 15 minutes earlier.

The recommendation failed Monday with just board member Deena Mitchell voting in favor of it. Board members Dave Donley, Alisha Hilde, Andy Holleman, Elisa Snelling and Starr Marsett, board president, rejected it.

The proposed changes to school start times would cause serious disruption across the community, including families who might not have the resources to make the adjustments and students with after-school jobs, some board members said.

Marsett said that while there's research that says it's beneficial for high school students to start later, now is not the right time for the change. There are too many other changes going on in the district, she said.

Donley said community members have mostly told him that they're strongly opposed to changing start times.

"The community is just not ready for it yet," he said.

Hilde said she wanted to see high school start times moved later than what was proposed. National organizations such as the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended that middle and high school students start classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m., she said. Bishop's recommendation would have pushed back Anchorage start times to just 8 a.m. and punted middle school start times to 9:30 a.m.

Mitchell, the sole vote in favor of Bishop's recommendation, said she found the research about the benefits older students get from starting school later — from improved behavior to reduced anxiety to better grades — very compelling.

"I know it is hard for a community to adapt. I know there are a lot of constraints on our students. I know there are kids who have to earn money to support their families. But at the end of the day, in the long run, they are going to have much higher earning potential if they can do better in school," Mitchell said after the meeting.

Both Mitchell and Hilde proposed amendments Monday to Bishop's recommendation, suggesting shifting schedules in other ways. Board members rejected both of them.

Holleman said the proposals either too dramatically disrupted schedules or made smaller changes that he didn't expect to result in much gain.

Snelling said at the last school board meeting that she didn't support changing school start times and the district had bigger issues to address to help students.

The district's current school start times will remain.

The Anchorage School Board last voted on whether to change school start times in 2002. The board sided with then-Superintendent Carol Comeau, who said the district should continue researching the issue because there was no community consensus about what to do, according to an Anchorage Daily News article.

On Monday, the board also approved calendars for the next three school years that closely mirror the current calendar. The calendars don't extend Thanksgiving break by three days or move the first day of school three days earlier, as was previously proposed.

The board approved the three calendars in a 5-1 vote. Donley cast the dissenting vote. He supported not moving up the start of the school year. However, he said, he also wanted students to have off the first Friday of Fur Rondy and he wanted more time between spring break and the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.