Park City School District explores pushing back high school start time
As early as August, the bells may ring at Park City schools at different times than students are used to.
The Park City School District recently formed a committee to look at changing school start times. The basis for the discussions, said Bob O’Connor, principal of Park City High School, is that studies show high school students learn best when the school day starts later in the morning as opposed to the 7 o’clock hour. Classes at the high school currently begin at 7:30 a.m.
"From the onset of puberty to their early 20s, students are better suited to begin a cognitive process at 8:30 a.m. or 9, instead of 7:30," said O’Connor, who is on the committee. "You can’t just go to bed earlier and wake up earlier — their rhythms are off."
But pushing back the high school’s first bell would have ripple effects throughout the district. Most notably, it would affect the start times at the other six schools due to the way the district’s bus system works.
The district currently has a tiered start-time structure at schools to allow the fleet of buses to make three trips to pick up students, said Todd Hauber, the district’s business administrator and a member of the start-times committee. The high school and Treasure Mountain Junior High (7:35 a.m.) begin classes the earliest, followed by the four elementary schools at 8:10 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. and Ecker Hill Middle School at 8:50 a.m.
Any change to the high school’s start time is dependent on figuring out a new transportation system, as well as mapping out other effects the change would have.
"If the high school moves back, we have to ask ourselves, ‘Which schools just went forward or backward, and is there science behind that move?’" Hauber said. "Then you have to ask yourself, ‘OK, how much earlier should they start? Would that be comfortable for parents to know that their younger children might be out during hours of darkness?’"
Traffic patterns, particularly along S.R. 248, are also a prominent part of the discussion. That road is often jammed during rush hour, and the district wants to ensure any move it makes won’t add to the backups, causing students to be late and delaying other commuters.
"Is there a right time to start high school to mitigate any of that congestion?" Hauber said. "Things like that are still being looked through."
Critical issues would also arise at PCHS if the school day was moved to a later time. O’Connor said many athletic coaches would be opposed because it would mean their teams might sometimes have to practice in the dark and that athletes would have to miss more class time to attend games. Additionally, O’Connor wants to ensure athletes visiting from other schools for games that start at 3:30 p.m. can’t wander the halls while classes are in session. High school classes currently end at 2:25 p.m. on most days.
Changing the start time is "not just as easy as saying, ‘Well, here we go,’" he said. He added, however, that many other districts across the country have faced, and overcome, similar hurdles in order to change the start times at their high schools.
Hauber said the aim of the start-times committee — which includes district representatives, as well as a handful of parents — is to develop plausible scenarios for pushing back the high school’s first bell. The district would then survey residents and hold outreach sessions to get feedback from the community.
"We want to get the public up to speed about what the pros and cons are, and then see what the response is," Hauber said.
The committee hopes to make a recommendation to the Board of Education by May. O’Connor said the committee was tasked with looking at changes to be implemented at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, but many members favor bumping up the timeline to next school year if a suitable plan is created.
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“The community has really rallied behind our schools right now, which now really means a lot to teachers and staff,” said Kara Cody, Park City Education Foundation’s programs director.