Camas School District changes up start times

Older students to start later while younger students will be at bus stops and in school zones earlier than normal

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Back-to-school season in Camas comes with a few noticable start-time changes this year, and Camas School District (CSD) leaders are asking morning commuters to watch out for younger students, who will be at bus stops and in school zones earlier than they may have been during previous school years.

Elementary students in most Camas schools will start an hour earlier this school year, at 8 a.m. instead of 9 a.m., and be released at 2:30 p.m. Things are slightly different at Lacamas Lake Elementary, where the school day begins at 8:15 a.m., and ends at 2:45 p.m.

In contrast, older students will begin their days an hour later, with high school students and Odyssey Middle School students starting at 8:40 a.m. and ending at 3:20 p.m., and Liberty and Skyridge middle schools starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 3:45 p.m.

The changes came about after district leaders and community members reviewed data and case studies showing teenagers need more sleep in the morning while younger students tend to perform better in school when their day is over earlier.

Most parents, teachers and students seemed to like the plan when district leaders presented it during the 2017-18 school year, but a few had serious concerns, especially about the fact that elementary children would be waiting for buses and going to school during those earlier — often darker — morning hours.

Steve Marshall, CSD’s director of educational resources, said the school district has addressed this concern in a number of ways.

In the rural areas, the district paid for five bus stops to be illuminated by street lights through a partnership with Clark Public Utilities.

“We are also exploring new signage in the rural areas of our district, and those sign options might be neon signs or electric flashing signs,” Marshall said.

The district also will continue using solar-powered signs that flash in school zones where bus stops are present.

Marshall said the district plans to host education programs about pedestrian safety, reminding parents and students about the importance of wearing bright clothing and reflective gear on their body and backpacks, teaching students about safe pedestrians habits through interactive activities, and having police officers give on-site pedestrian safety lessons.

The district plans to email pedestrian safety information to parents and ask them to reinforce the lessons at home.

“We want to raise awareness that driving conditions will be different starting Sept. 4.,” Marshall said. “Parents that we’re communicating with are also going to be parents driving to work and driving around town, and we want them to be aware that, until this year, driving through an elementary school zone at 7:30 a.m. would not involve reducing your speed, or you wouldn’t have to look for students walking to bus stops or walking to school or crossing streets. This year, drivers will need to be on the lookout for those things.”

Marshall said the new school year always comes with increased patrols in school zones, and this year won’t be any different.

During the first three weeks of the 2018-19 school year, Camas police will monitor city school zones, while Clark County Sheriff’s Office deputies patrol rural school zones, Marshall said.

Laura Nowland, the school district’s director of transportation, said Lacamas Lake Elementary students are starting 15 minutes later than other elementary schools because those students live further out, in the rural areas, and school district administrators have set the earliest student pick-up time at 7:15 a.m.

Marshall said the buses start picking up students in the outer zones first, then work toward the schools, so the district wanted to make sure rural students weren’t being negatively impacted by the new start times.

“I think that’s a district consideration on the impact on families,” Marshall said of the district’s 7:15 a.m. earliest pick-up time. “We didn’t want to have any student on a bus longer than an hour, nor did we want to have a young student have to wake up extremely early.”

Committee explored schedule change for two years

The idea for giving older children more time to sleep in came about after the Camas School District shifted its focus toward students’ social-emotional development and health.

A Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) raised concerns about early mornings and teen health during the 2016-17 school year, and began to research the feasibility of later school start times. Committee members wanted to know how later start times at the middle and high school levels might positively impact student health, but they also asked how the change might impact families’ routines, school programming, bus schedules and school district operations.

“To explore that impact on families, they conducted a lot of research, surveys and dialogue with the community,” Marshall said. “Out of that research, the conclusion was that teenagers have a different sleep pattern than children, and so starting secondary schools at a later time will be beneficial to learning.”

The district surveyed parents and students through a Google survey, and found more than 75 percent of the 2,178 parents who responded approved of the new start times.

“I am excited for our students,” Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell said. “The research is very compelling about our adolescent youth and the impact of sleep on their mental health, safety and learning. I appreciate that this is a big change for everyone, so I’m anxious to get started.”