Camas schools to ‘flip flop’ start times

Change lets teens get more sleep, younger students leave before their energy levels dip

Camas teens, take heart: Starting next fall, you’ll get to sleep in just a little bit longer.

The Camas School Board on Monday approved a district plan to “flip flop” school start times, with older students starting school one hour later and younger students starting one hour earlier, beginning in the fall of 2018.

The move allows adolescents to get more sleep — something researchers say is critical to teen health — and younger students to leave school before their attention starts to wane in the late afternoon.

CSD Superintendent Jeff Snell says the plan is one of many district-wide efforts to improve students’ social-emotional health.

“This was not about improving academic test scores,” Snell told Camas School Board members Monday. “We view this as a student health issue.”

The plan is the result of a full year’s worth of research, community meetings and surveys. A Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) formed in November of 2016 to research school start times and their impacts on student health.

What they found, Snell said, is that school start times of 8:30 a.m. help teens get enough sleep and positively affect adolescents’ physical, mental and emotional health. The CAC’s research led to the creation of several different models, including the “flip flop” model that passed muster with the school board Monday. Last spring, the district reached out to teachers, students and families to see what the community preferred.

Elementary school teachers told district leaders that they preferred the earlier start and end times for their younger students, who, they said, often have trouble paying attention during the later afternoon hours. Most parents also preferred the “flip flop” model, and students were evenly mixed on the three options provided: keep start times the same, push them all back or “flip flop” the lower and high grade levels’ start times.

“Changing start times is challenging because of the impact it has on students, staff and families,” Snell stated in his report to school board members, presented at the board’s workshop on Monday evening. “The (CAC) made a recommendation to move our schedules to better align with best practice research that supports student health. Students are fairly divided amongst the three options while the majority of staff and parents prefer moving elementary start times to 8 a.m. and secondary options later.”

Under the current recommendation, which was approved by the school board on Monday but subject to minor adjustments based on bussing needs, starting in the fall of 2018, Camas elementary students will attend school from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Due to bus scheduling conflicts, Lacamas Lake Elementary School will begin at 8:15 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m. Older students will start and end their day one hour later, with all high schools and Odyssey Middle School starting at 8:40 a.m. and ending at 3:20 p.m., and Liberty and Skyridge middle schools beginning at 9 a.m. and ending at 3:45 p.m.

The district will work with community leaders, families and staff over the next several months to figure out the logistics of the plan, Snell said Monday.

“There are some concerns,” Snell said. “Will it be perfect? Absolutely not. But I am confident that we are doing this in a way that is good for our kids.”

Some of the challenges of flipping the school start times include a shift in bus schedules and a fear that some elementary students, especially in the Livingston Mountain area, might be standing at bus stops so early in the morning that, during the fall and winter months, it will still be very dark outside. The district also will need to figure out how to accommodate families who might require more after-school care and, perhaps, less before-school care at the elementary level.

On Monday, Camas School Board member Connie Hennessey suggested that the district might look into providing more extended care at the elementary level, at least through the 2018-19 school year to provide a “stop gap measure” for families who will need to adjust their pick-up time for younger students by a full hour.

“I am really happy with this proposal,” Hennessey added. “I’m happy that the drive of this is student health and that we’re doing what is best for the kids.”

Another concern brought up by board members Monday evening was that some high school students may see the later start time as an opportunity to pack even more academic classes into their already full schedules, ruining the health benefit of getting a little extra sleep that district leaders are trying to provide.

Snell said some high school students already take “zero period” classes, which start an hour before school, because they want to be involved with things like jazz band and can’t fit it into their regular schedule. He has also heard from students who would be interested in taking a core class during “zero period” once the later start time begins in 2018, because they work or have internships after school and may need to leave earlier than the proposed 3:20 p.m. release time.

“As a district, we are trying to not promote those early activities before school, but there will be students who do need that,” Snell said.

The board members heard from one Camas parent on Monday night. Ellie Hutton said she favors the “flip flop” plan, and that she hopes it has a positive impact on her twin sons, who will be seniors in high school next year.

“My boys are at school at 6:30 a.m.,” Hutton told the school board members. “They are OK with it, but I can see that it takes its toll.”

To read more about the district’s new start times or to view the results of the surveys conducted last spring, visit www.camas.wednet.edu/news/start-time-progress-update.

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