Elementary schools to start earlier than intermediate, high schools

Principals of Homer-area schools recommended Option X to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District as the best choice for the change in school start and end times on the lower Kenai Peninsula. Parents, school staff, school board members and district administrators discussed the proposed schedule, which will be effective August 2017, at a meeting on Nov. 2 at Homer High School.

Option X starts Homer elementary schools about an hour before area intermediate and high schools, meaning that younger children will start and end school before older youth. Little Fireweed and Paul Banks would run 7:50 a.m.-2:20 p.m. and West Homer and Big Fireweed would run 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. McNeil Canyon would start slightly later than in-town schools, starting at 8:20 a.m. and ending at 2:50 p.m.

Homer Middle, Homer High and Homer Flex would run 9 a.m.-3:45 p.m. A little further up the road, Chapman School and Ninilchik School would share buses, running 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 9:05 a.m.-3:35 p.m., respectively.

Many community members present at the meeting expressed concerns about the availability of childcare for working parents and the effect of later end times on teens’ extracurricular activities.

Homer High School cross-country ski coach Alan Parks spoke out at the meeting against school end times that would cause his team to practice on Ohlson Mountain in the dark, as sunset during the winter sports season is within the 4 p.m. hour. Parks entered into a heated discussion with Homer High principal Doug Waclawski about how the late end time would affect the athletes and the lack of lighting on the ski trails.

“It doesn’t feel like my input matters. It feels like a done deal,” Parks said.

The push to have intermediate and high schools start later in the morning is based on recent research data showing teens need 8-10 hours of sleep and have internal rhythms that benefit from going to bed and waking up later, said Waclawski at the meeting. Although upper Peninsula schools currently start earlier in the morning, they have an eye on lower Peninsula schools and may start to make a change in a similar direction.

The Center of Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. so students can have 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep each night. Two out of three high school students fail to get sufficient sleep, according to an August 2016 CDC press release.

Earlier school start times reduce the amount of sleep that teens get, resulting in health risks, including obesity, depression, alcohol, tobacco and drug use, motor vehicle accidents and an overall lower quality of life. Insufficient sleep also results in poor academic performance.

Principals of Homer-area elementary schools reported at the meeting that feedback from their students’ parents overwhelmingly stated a preference for students to start school earlier in the day, so as to avoid the difficulty of finding morning childcare.

The district released three potential school start and end times for schools on the lower Kenai Peninsula — Chapman, Ninilchik, Fireweed Academy, Paul Banks Elementary, West Homer Elementary, Homer Middle, Homer High, Homer Flex, and McNeil Canyon — for community consideration in October. Meetings were held throughout the southern peninsula in September to gather feedback before creating the sample schedules.

The school board voted in July to award a 10-year contract to Apple Bus and approved a change from the current single-tier busing system to a two-tier system that staggers schools start and end times on the lower Peninsula in order to save approximately $600,000 on busing.

Two-tier busing is already in place on the central Kenai Peninsula. The cuts to the number of buses in order to save the district over a half million dollars is the first major change among many to come as the state struggles to find ample revenue, said school board member Zen Kelly.

“I was one of the votes to award the contract and go to this change based on change to the budget,” Kelly said. “It was necessary. This is the first. There will be more major budget changes.”

Anna Frost can be reached at anna.frost@homernews.com.

A quote attributed to the incorrect person has been removed from the article. The Homer News regrets this error.