Sleepy Heads Win; LCUSD Votes for Later Start of School Day

Set your alarm later next year if you’re a student at either La Cañada High School or LCHS 7/8.
At a special meeting Tuesday, the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board voted unanimously to start the school day at 8:30 a.m. for the 2017-18 school year, a departure from the current 7:45 a.m. first-period start time. The school day will end at 3:14 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays and at 3:13 p.m. during Wednesday and Thursday block schedules.
Board members also requested that the district create an oversight committee to track whether students benefit from the change.
In support of the move, Superintendent Wendy Sinnette cited research from the Stanford Challenge Success Schools program that indicated students at LCHS and LCHS 7/8 were not receiving enough sleep: Kids on campus reported getting between 6.17 and 7.71 hours per night. That is less than the nine or 10 hours recommended for adolescents.
Also Tuesday, Senate Bill 328, which would make the 8:30 a.m.-or-later start time the law statewide, passed the state Senate, paving the way for consideration in the state Assembly.
With the bill making its way through the California legislature, LCUSD officials stressed Tuesday that their decision was separate from the bill presented by La Cañada Flintridge resident and former Mayor Anthony Portantino.
“This has been a process for the Governing Board and district staff for three years,” Sinnette said. “The optics that it’s happening in conjunction with the Senate bill, that doesn’t play in our favor for people who object, but I’d like to go on record and say none of this motivation on my part or in any of the conversations I’ve had with the board members is tied to that political bill.”
The board continued to hear objections to the move before its vote Tuesday. There were concerns over the political aspect of the decision and what it will mean to student-athletes, who make up more than half of LCHS’s student body and sometimes have to leave early to get to athletic contests.
“Parents of student athletes are really concerned about their kids’ instructional time in class,” said Craig Miller, who told the board he was aware of some fellow parents’ intention to remove their student-athletes from the district if the board opted for the later start.
Sinnette said the district is taking those concerns seriously, and that in an analysis of how much class student-athletes will miss with the later start, it learned that starting at 8:30 a.m. will cost baseball players an additional 3.2 periods of class time, that softball players will lose an extra 3.5 periods, girls’ soccer players an additional 4.5 periods and boys’ soccer players 4.3 periods.
She said LCUSD administrators have asked fellow Rio Hondo League schools — most of which end school at or around 3 p.m. — to consider moving the start time for athletic competitions from 3:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Sinnette also said that athletic director Kristina Kalb will work on increasing the efficiency of buses taking student-athletes to games and that the La Cañada Teachers Association has promised to encourage all teachers to “minimize any harmful effects to student-athletes,” which might mean using the mornings for making up missed classwork.
Josh Epstein, president of the La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation, applauded the district’s desire to start school later.
“I see us as a trendsetting district, as a district that’s cutting-edge,” he said. “We may be the model school for the future.”
And so, Sinnette said, the plan is to compare this year’s baseline student survey data with future survey data, in an attempt to analyze the results and learn from them.
She said she realizes that improving student wellness will involve more than starting the school day later: “If you make this change, you have to keep up with your teachers, that load doesn’t equal rigor, and how do we maintain the rigor that we so embrace in our school district and still balance the homework piece? And we have to work with the parents about getting devices out of the bedroom and embracing sleep time. It’s a multi-pronged approach focusing on the health of our kids.”
All classes will remain 56 minutes long, but passing periods will be shortened next year, Sinnette said. Students will have six minutes between classes with the exception of classes that fall directly after lunch or break, when they’ll have five minutes to get to where they’re going. Also, the six-minute home room announcement will be relegated to STEP class on block days or delivered electronically.
A district-wide survey before the board’s decision indicated that most students and parents favored the later start, Sinnette said. As of 4:51 p.m. on Tuesday, 81.4% of 843 student respondents said they approved of a later start, and of the 1,248 parents who participated, 74.5% of them agreed.
“[Someone] asked if it’s not broken, why fix it?” Jeffries said. “It’s a good question. For me, the answer came from our students, who came forward and explained that they don’t get enough sleep. They feel stressed and they think it would help them tremendously. There is a problem and I think it’s our obligation to recognize that and try to fix it.”

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