Start time change: DPS needs do the right thing

(Editor’s note: The following is a response to Dearborn Public Schools Supt. Brian Whiston’s letter to the petition signers for Later High School Start Times in Dearborn, at http://signon.org/sign/dearborn-public-schools?source=c.em.mt&r_by=5890917.)

Dear Mr. Whiston,

The issue of a later high school start time arose from parents’ concerns for their children’s health, safety, and academic success. Change to a later start time for teens is universally supported by medical research results. In fact, the Dearborn Public Schools PTSA Council presented the Later High School Start Time Resolution to the Dearborn Board of Education in 2008. After that, the district administration formed a committee to determine interest in the change, review feasibility for implementation, and recommend an appropriate change.

The committee conducted a survey to determine the level of interest for a change in the high school start times. With over 1,800 responses from students, parents, and staff, more than half of the respondents were in favor of a change. In addition, staff representatives on behalf of transportation (busing) and athletics both indicated that they could adjust to the later start time without serious impact on their schedules and no additional cost. Here is a quote from meeting minutes dated June 2, 2009:

“Bob Picano – Athletics: Gathered start and end times from high schools in the current league as well as those in our future league. Freshmen athletic events start at 3:45, JV at 5:30 and V at 7:00. With travel time, a dismissal as late as 3:00 would not result in more than @ 15-30 minutes of students needing to leave classes early.”

The later start time ultimately recommended by the committee in December 2009 was for a start time of one hour later for high schools and a switch of the busing schedules for high school and middle school students. Middle schools would then start one hour earlier and elementary school schedules were only affected by 10 minutes.

With no further communication with the committee, the recommendation was set aside until February 2011 when it was presented to the board on an informational basis by an administration representative. No further action was taken.

Again with no further involvement by the committee, the administration presented a different proposal to the board in February 2012. It is this proposal that failed to launch the change in start times in September 2012. The reason for the failure was the restrictions and conditions imposed, as partly reflected by the chart below.

In addition, when some students are precluded from participating in a program, it is reasonable to assume that it will impact their friends who want to be on the same schedule. Parental pressure may also prevent some students from participating with such restrictions.

Bottom line: The issue is whether a later start time in high schools is the best decision for our children. Based on expert research, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Implementation of change is best done by making the change uniform and universal, not loaded with so many exceptions and consequences that a program is doomed from even being implemented.

In almost every school there is a poster which reads, “It’s not always right to be popular. It’s not always popular to be right.” We’re just asking the school district to stand up and lead and do the right thing.

You can show your support for later high school start times by signing on at: http://signon.org/sign/dearborn-public-schools?source=c.em.mt&r_by=5890917.

Helena Thornton

Parent of a Dearborn

Public Schools student

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