Feasibility of Later High School Start Time Heard by Montville Board of Ed

Montville Township High School Principal Douglas Sanford ©2018 TAPinto Montvillle Credits: Melissa Benno

MONTVILLE, NJ – Goal number two for the Montville Township Public Schools Board of Education was to examine the start time of the high school, currently 7:25 a.m., to see if a later start time was feasible. At the April 10 board of ed meeting, members of the feasibility committee presented their findings to the board. The answer? Well, it’s complicated.

High school Principal Douglas Sanford began the presentation by explaining that the 23-member committee had been composed of different stakeholder groups, he said, including the district’s transportation coordinator, students, staff, parents and administrators. The group realized there were many variables, so they broke up into 12 different sub-committees.

Committee member and high school health teacher Jody Inglis said articles from the National Sleep Foundation, Journal of Public Health, the Journal of School Health, and other academic research was investigated to see what studies had been conducted, but the sub-committee found there was a limited amount of research and its quality was limited as well.  Most studies were from 2011 to 2017. The research showed that delaying the school start time has advantages, but has not shown if the positive effects are sustainable over time, and the studies could not directly correlate the school start time to an increased amount of sleep consistently, Inglis explained to the board.

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Benefits seen in the studies included decreased behavioral issues, increased attendance, increased academic performance and decreased tardiness, Inglis explained, but the benefits were seen when the start time was delayed to between 8:30 and 8:55 a.m., more than an hour difference from the high school’s current start time.

While the studies showed better outcomes, they also showed that students were going to bed later, and also increasing their sleep time by only 11 minutes for every 30 minute delay in school start time, she said.

Inglis said there was no doubt that student athletes are impacted by a decrease in duration of sleep, but since the high school is a member of the Northwest Jersey Atlantic Conference, and schedules are created two years in advance, travel times for some events can be an hour or more. Darkness can be an issue for practices in the fall, and students would have to leave school early for travel.

“It would be particularly challenging for the swim team since there are not many pools available in the area and the high school’s current reserved time is 2:30,” she said.

The recreation department would also be impacted since clinics, games and practices are held at the high school and it would reduce gym time for these, the youth travel sports and the adult basketball league, Inglis explained.

High school senior Kelly Chan discussed the impact on clubs and co-curricular activities and explained that 85% of the school population is involved in a school activity in or outside of the school, but a later school day end time may lead to conflicts with family responsibilities for club advisors, and students would have less time to complete homework. It could also conflict with students’ part-time jobs, she said.

Sanford said that most of the staff of MEDLC (the school’s after-school daycare program) is composed of high school students and teachers, so if the elementary schools and middle school, which is where MEDLC operates, were to maintain the same schedule, this could lead to problems.

No language in the teachers’ contract prevents a delayed start time, Sanford said. The staff of the high school was surveyed, and the sub-committee found that the average staff member leaves their home at 6:23 a.m. currently, and half use 287 or Route 46 to come to work, with a commute time averaging 25 minutes. Staff members worried that a later start time would increase commute time and make childcare issues more problematic both before and after school, according to the sub-committee’s research.

Another sub-committee looked at 36 other school districts’ start time, Supervisor of the Arts and committee member Ed Fleischman said.

“7:40 a.m. was the most prevalent start time, and the start time was just dependent on that district’s needs,” he said.

Sanford said custodial services would see disruption due to the way the provider structures the shifts.

“They said there would be some challenges, but nothing they couldn’t overcome,” Sanford said.

The school lunch provider wasn’t concerned about the start time, Sanford said, but was more concerned about any changes to the bell schedule and whether more lunch periods would be added or if lunchtime would increase or decrease.

Fewer than 20 students attend vo-tech, Fleischman said, but the start time would affect busing and these students could miss instructional time at both schools.

Chan discussed a survey that 376 students filled out regarding the potential change. Three-quarters of students said that a later start time would lead to more sleep, and 85% of them said they currently get fewer than seven hours per night. Nearly 50% want a 20-40 minute later start time, while slightly more than a quarter want the start time to stay the same.

District Transportation Coordinator Tammy Koop said an altered start time would be a nightmare for transportation.  The high school has 18 bus routes that are “three-tier,” meaning, the buses pick up high school students, drop them off at the high school, then do a Lazar run, then do an elementary route. These “three-tier” routes save the district money. However, the other school levels require more buses, some of which are only “two-tier,” and some of which only do one run per day. These routes are more expensive. Delaying the high school start time would cause all high school routes to become two-tier or one run per day routes, and would result in a cost increase of $550,000 to $720,000, Koop said. She said there is a bus driver shortage, further complicating the issue.

While the research showed benefits to students from an 8:30 a.m. start time, the committee felt that was such a drastic change that they examined the benefits to what they felt was less drastic, or a 30-minute later start time of 7:55 a.m., Fleischman said. The academic research showed there would be increased sleep for the students, the student survey showed the students themselves felt they would get more sleep, and almost three-quarters felt their academic performance would improve, but athletics and busing would be impacted, as well as MEDLC, vo-tech and the recreation department, Fleischman said.

Inglis said that the committee believed that areas that affect student sleep habits can also be explored, such as social media and gaming use, student stress levels and coping mechanisms, study habits, and barriers to sleep.

“Is it just school start time, or should we investigate other areas?” posed Inglis. “If we implement this time change, will it help or will those other issues [get in the way]? We figured the best way to work on this is to look at these issues with sub-committees, [develop] strategies to decrease stress, and [figure out] how to work on that health and wellness, in grades kindergarten through 12.”

Inglis said the bell schedule also had to be looked at, and the other elementary and middle schools’ start and end times may also need to be adjusted due to busing and to coordinate with the high school change.

Sanford concluded by saying that the 7:55 a.m. start time was not meant to be a recommendation because there are so many variables.

“It’s an enormously complex issue with such a wide array of variables to be considered that it’s nearly impossible to make a recommendation,” he said.

To read the presentation, click: presentation.

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