LCUSD to Decide on Later Start to School Day

The La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board will decide next week whether to set a schedule so that every school day is like Tuesday on the La Cañada High School and LCHS 7/8 campus.
Tuesday — when first period begins at 8:40 a.m. rather than the typical 7:45 a.m. start time — is the happiest, most productive day of the week, according to the testimony of multiple students and teachers advocating for a later start every day.
Hardly everyone thinks that’s necessary or a good idea, however.
After listening to an exhaustive debate between parents, students, teachers and administrators at a well-attended workshop Monday, board members indicated their desire to push back the start of the school day to 8:30 a.m. — but first, they want to evaluate survey results from stakeholders, who have until Friday, May 26, to respond to a poll available via a link in a district email sent last week.
“I feel confident this is a good move,” Governing Board President Dan Jeffries said. “But I don’t feel confident the community is going to make this work. If we don’t have support, it’s probably going to be shooting ourselves in the foot.”
As of the end of the meeting Monday, 73% of respondents indicated they favored a later start, according to Jamie Lewsadder, chief technology officer.
The board is expected to vote on whether or not to implement the change at a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 30.
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette said the district has been studying the issue since parents such as Belinda Dong approached the board about three years ago with research that suggested high school students weren’t getting enough sleep.
The district’s recent engagement with the Stanford-based research program “Challenge Success” also pushed the issue forward, Sinnette said. A Challenge Success survey earlier this year indicated that 77% of LCHS students reported suffering from exhaustion, 67% said they had difficulty sleeping and 64% said they suffer from stress-related headaches.
Those students also said they were getting, on average, 6.5 hours of sleep per night, less than the eight-10 hours that research suggests adolescents need, Sinnette added.
Then, an agenda item at the most recent Governing Board meeting about whether the district should support Senate Bill 328 (state Sen. Anthony Portantino’s proposal that, if passed, would require all middle and high schools in the state to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.) spurred Monday’s workshop.
“We have to figure out if it works locally before we decide if it would work statewide,” Jeffries said. “The bottom line is: Would a later start time lead to more sleep and better physical and emotional health of our students?”
Board members agreed that they supported the spirit of Portantino’s bill, but they all had hesitations about the far-reaching nature of it, despite its support from groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, which reported “serious health effects” for teens who don’t get sufficient sleep.
“Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to conditions such as depression, weight gain, irritability, inattentiveness, academic difficulties and more,” wrote Nancy Graff, a fellow for the group, in a letter supporting AB 328. “Many older teens who drive themselves to school also wind up ‘driving drowsy,’ which can be as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.”
But Roberta Cowdin, an associate professor of Clinical Preventive Medicine at USC Keck School of Medicine, told the board Monday that the research isn’t conclusive yet, and that the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t have a position on school start time, despite its data often being referenced by proponents for starting later.
“Is 2017 the right time to experiment with this?” parent Bob Louk asked. “We’re the No. 2 district in the state … why are we being the first to implement this before it’s even passed in the state legislature?”
“Who cares about No. 1 when the students don’t feel like No. 1?” asked Emin Baghdassarians, an LCHS student. “How can you know that your son or daughter has crippling anxiety and vote against something that’s going to help them?”
Bill Stoner, a parent, wasn’t convinced starting an hour later would even alleviate students’ stress, as busy as they are.
“Even Sacramento can’t just snap its fingers and add an hour to the day,” Stoner said. “And something over half of our kids participate in is athletics. If you’re an athlete, as it is right now, and you have an away game, you miss part of your 5th-period class. If you push everything back 45 minutes, do you miss 4th?”
Despite overwhelming support from teachers who want to start later, engineering teacher Michael Kassarjian also wondered whether the move might lead to a lot more missed school.
“I’m concerned that the amount of missed class due to athletics or other afterschool activities is going to far overwhelm any small benefit there might be from a late start,” he said.
Countered English teacher Tracey Calhoun: “The number of first-period tardies far outweighs the early dismissals for sports,” adding that, except for Tuesdays, “first period is a dud.”
Several parents had other logistical concerns about starting later, including difficulties it might pose to families with two working parents. Sinnette said that the Information Resource Center could be open earlier to accommodate students who needed to be dropped off early.
“Then why are we punishing kids who have working parents by not letting them take advantage of [the later start]?” Stoner asked. “Children who have two working parents get dropped off when the rest of their classmates are sleeping?”
Parent Belinda Randolph worried about whether the shift could be detrimental to students’ preparation for college: “This idea that we can make lives simpler for high school kids, that’s great, but they’re just going to be shocked when they get to college.”
Orchestra teacher Jennifer Munday said parents should be most concerned about what lack of sleep is doing to their teens now.
“I don’t understand when people stand up here and say, ‘We’ve got to get them ready for college,’” Munday said. “They’re kids! They need their sleep! If you transferred food into this, we’d be horrified. They need sleep. Sleep is so important. It just seems crazy to me that people would even go against it.”
If the board goes for it next week, the district is poised to make the change — with support from the La Cañada Teachers Association — for the 2017-18 school year, Sinnette said.

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