Jeffco postpones later start times for teenagers, but may continue studying the issue

Teenagers in Jeffco schools will not have later school start times this fall, despite a community group’s recommendations last month.

Jeffco Public Schools had tasked a group of parents and community members with gathering input, looking at research and how other school districts have already changed start times, and then creating recommendations. But Superintendent Jason Glass said concerns from the school board and from principals convinced him not to follow through on immediate changes.

In February, the 50-member group presented three recommendations to the board including to move all school start times 30 minutes later this fall and to have the board commit to not having any middle schools start before 8 a.m. and no high schools start before 8:30 a.m. by 2020.

A few weeks later, the superintendent wrote a memo explaining that he would not move to push those two recommendations yet.

“We’re going to keep working on it,” Glass said. “We’re not saying no to this idea.”

Currently, Jeffco schools start at various and staggered times. Some schools that have more autonomy have already created later start times while some high schools start as early as 7:15 a.m.

School districts across the country have created later start times for middle and high schools to enable teens to get more sleep. Research shows students need that extra time in the morning to better function and be ready to learn.

Glass did accept one recommendation from the task force, and is proposing to hire a consultant to do more analysis and outreach and better plan for a possible change in start times in the future. To do that, he has requested $70,000 in next school year’s budget.

Task force leaders explained that recommendation to the board last month acknowledging that the complex issues in changing start times would require an expert to examine the different impacts. Even without those details worked out, the group proposed the 30-minute change for this fall, knowing it wouldn’t accomplish what research recommends at all schools, but would be an interim step, leaders told the board.

After Glass sent his memo, members of the start time task force voiced their disappointment on the group’s public Facebook page.

“I get that there are a lot of factors at play here, and that the logistics of changing start times is complex. But isn’t it really a matter of priorities?” one mother posted.

“I’m also incredibly disappointed that the hard work of the task force had been so easily dismissed,” another said.

Among the concerns, Glass said, is the increased cost of busing. If the number of routes the district runs has to be compressed into a shorter period of time to eliminate early runs, then the district might have to buy more buses and hire more drivers.

When the group presented its recommendations, a few opponents to the later start times also spoke to the board, including a high school student.

Jeffco board members also voiced their concerns at that time but said they might agree with hiring a consultant rather than supporting the other recommendations.

“I honestly don’t think we can responsibly make any decision unless we know what the real costs are,” board member Brad Rupert said. “I need to know: Are we going to need to hire more bus drivers and have more buses? Are we going to spend more for the facilities for after-school projects? You can’t make a decision like this without asking what the real costs are and how that fits into our ongoing budgets. It’s not ready for a decision.”

Similar issues delayed the Boulder Valley school district from deciding to push back start times for its high schools.

A task force there in 2016 recommended the district start high schools later, but the work was shelved over similar logistical concerns about busing, after-school programs and costs. Last year the district’s school board revisited the issue and two months ago it finally voted to push high school start times to 8:30 a.m., starting this fall.

Glass said he personally hasn’t looked closely at other districts’ work yet, though it was something he asked the task force to do. He said he believes the issue of starting school later in the morning is about a community’s values.

“I think it is the case that if we could find a way to do this we would,” Glass said. “Our community is there, it’s just not prudent or wise if we haven’t really solved the logistical issues and have a plan for the cost impact.”