Pushing back start times to allow St. Paul high schoolers to sleep longer has proved elusive for district leaders, and a proposal presented Tuesday to school board members would delay sweeping changes by another year.
The recommendation calls for moving start times for all secondary students from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. beginning in 2019-20, rather than 2018-19, as the board envisioned when it asked for a new round of input on the issue last year.
The one-year delay is designed to give time to align changes with a districtwide strategic plan to be developed by new Superintendent Joe Gothard. He took over in July and is taking a “listen & learn tour” of the city and school district.
He said Tuesday’s recommendation reflected “heavy lifting” by a 20-member committee that included principals, students, parents and transportation experts inside and outside of the state’s second-largest district.
The district has sought for three years to reap the benefits of national research showing that performance rises, and absences and tardiness decline, when high schoolers get more sleep.
But despite years of prodding, frustrated school board members have seen only Johnson High on the East Side and Creative Arts Secondary School downtown get the coveted 8:30 a.m. start-time slots.
Transportation is a key component in the start-time equation, and Metro Transit — the go-to for high school students in both St. Paul and Minneapolis — has lacked the capacity to expand service beyond Johnson and Creative Arts.
That has left the district eyeing scenarios that involve its yellow buses, as well as unappealing earlier starts for thousands of elementary students — a shift that scuttled previous proposals put before the board.
The proposal presented Tuesday still calls for elementary students at schools with 8:30 a.m. starts to move to 7:30 a.m. starts. But it would no longer require the same change for elementary students now at schools with 9:30 a.m. start times.
Still, board members raised questions Tuesday about what the changes could mean for parents with child-care needs and those unable to accompany young children to bus stops in the early-morning hours.
The school board is expected to vote on the proposal on Oct. 17.
“It is a difficult decision,” board Chairman Jon Schumacher said.