SALT LAKE CITY — After a public meeting earlier this week where the vast majority of participants backed a proposal to push back start times of Salt Lake City high schools by at least 30 minutes, the plan got a chilly reception Thursday night from parents, teachers and even students.
Parents and educators said later starts at the high schools could mean earlier starts for elementary schools, which would result in more children waiting even longer outside buildings before the start of the academic day, and a child care conundrum for parents who rely on their older children to pick up and care for their younger siblings until the parents get home.
One parent, Laura Hernandez, urged the board to consider the challenges of people working two or three jobs to make ends meet.
“They work hard to keep their kids in schools. We need to do something that really helps the community. This is not going to help the community,” she said.
Thursday’s meeting at Northwest Middle School was the second of four public meetings the Salt Lake City Board of Education is holding to gather public input on the late start proposal, which under most options the district has developed would impact start and end times of middle schools and elementary schools as well.
While some parents said their children would benefit from more sleep, others said the schedule teaches students to get up and get on with their days.
One teacher who declined to provide her name said getting up early for high school was one reason she was successful in college “because I knew how to get my butt out of bed.”
But others, like West High School Community Council chairwoman Katherine Stroud, said she knows her daughter would benefit from more sleep because she’s wired to stay up late. Many school days, she is in tears as she struggles to get up and prepare for her day.
“She’s a night owl. There’s nothing I can do about that. But you can,” she said, referring to the board’s proposal to institute late starts at its three high schools.
“We’re smart. We can do this. We can make sacrifices for the sake of our kids,” said Stroud.
Karen Harris, a mother of a high schooler and a fifth grader, said she has read and appreciates the research behind late school starts — a reduction in sleep deprivation in students, which can help with anxiety and depression in youths, among other benefits — but she questioned if the disruption to the district was worth it.
For her family, a later start to high school means they’ll have less time to take part in after school arts activities, some that require travel to Davis County or the south valley.
As for the benefit of more sleep, “I don’t feel the school needs to be in charge of that,” she said.
We’re smart. We can do this. We can make sacrifices for the sake of our kids.
–Katherine Stroud, West High School Community Council chairwoman
If the school board is determined to make a change, she urged it to “go big.”
“Fifteen minutes? That’s nothing. That’s just messing with our schedules,” she said.
Laurely Cruz, a ninth grader at West High School, questioned if a late state would work, or if students would just go to bed even later.
Cruz said some of her classmates roll into school late as it is. Some claim they have had only a few hours of sleep.
“As much we want kids to get more sleep, they’re not going to do it. Let’s be honest,” she said.
Mike Harman, the district’s homeless education liaison who serves in a number of capacities in the state and local education associations, urged the board to “slow down” and consider all of its options. Instead of district busing, the board could explore using public transportation.
Salt Lake City’s new mayor, Erin Mendenhall, is committed to doing more to cleaning the air. Perhaps this is an initiative that could use the best minds of the entire city, he said.
Amanda Longwell, a mother of three children, said the change would affect teacher preparation time and time that paraprofessionals need for training, particularly those who work with students with disabilities.
“Have you considered that impact and how much of a negative impact there would be to the disability population?” she asked.
Moreover, the implications of changes to bus schedules could negatively impact children with disabilities, said Longwell, whose youngest child has Down syndrome. If they are late to school, it cuts into their education opportunities.
Two more public meetings are scheduled to gather input on the proposal. They will be:
- Friday, Jan. 17, at Hillside Middle School, 1825 S. Nevada Street, at 6 p.m.
- Saturday, Jan. 18, at Glendale Public Library, 1375 S. Concord Street, at 10 a.m.