Anchorage school officials are again considering changing when students need to show up for class.
At a school board work session Monday night, members asked the district to research potential changes to the school schedule and create a proposal for the board to consider later this school year.
“While any major change like this involves trade-offs, for a number of reasons, I do feel that this is something the board should strongly consider,” Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt told board members.
The idea is based on national guidance that supports later school start times for middle and high school students. Research has shown that teens not getting enough sleep can lead to a host of other issues.
Following a presentation by a hired consultant mostly summarizing research the district did in 2018 — the last time they weighed whether to change start times — board members indicated via straw poll they’d like another proposal. In 2018, the school board, made up mostly of different members, ultimately chose not to make any schedule switches.
At the time, the district conducted various town halls and focus groups while looking at school start time changes. They also contracted a consultant to help with the research, said Jim Anderson, the district’s chief operating officer.
On Monday, the consultant Shannon Bingham walked board members through his 2018 findings. Bingham is the same consultant the district recently hired to provide school closure recommendations in late 2022 amid a severe budget shortfall.
Back in 2018, Bingham explained, the district spoke with teachers, bus drivers, employees and students, the Chamber of Commerce and child care providers and used a survey research group to understand how the community felt about potential changes.
In the end, the district recommended a change that would have pushed high schools to start at 8:00 a.m., elementary schools at 8:45 a.m., and middle schools starting at 9:30 a.m. Currently, district high schools begin class at 7:30 a.m., middle schools start at 8:15 a.m. while most elementary schools start at 9 a.m.
For middle and high school students, research favors starting school later nationally, Bingham said, while for elementary school students, the thinking is more split. At the same time, Alaska contends with its own set of start and end time issues given its unique daylight.
“A lot of the side effects associated with various changes in start time are more profound in Alaska because we have more darkness, we have more cold, we have more pedestrian complications with children getting to school,” Bingham told the board.
During the work session, school board member Carl Jacobs noted that the current district schedule is out of line with national guidance. The American Academy of Pediatrics has argued that middle and high school students should start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
And, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “not getting enough sleep is common among high school students and is associated with several health risks including being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and using drugs, as well as poor academic performance. One of the reasons adolescents do not get enough sleep is early school start times.”
Following the straw poll, Anderson told board members that the district would come back with a recommendation based on surveys and public meetings, he said, though likely not as in-depth as the 2018 effort.