For many south-metro students who have trouble keeping their eyelids propped up during morning classes, relief may be on the way.

The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and Farmington school districts are talking about pushing back high school start times, a move that metro-area districts such as Minneapolis and Edina have made in the past 15 years in response to research about the sleep patterns of teenagers.

Studies have shown that adolescents naturally get tired later and wake up later and that older teenagers need more sleep than they did when they were younger. When teenage biorhythms collide with a 7:30 a.m. chemistry class, the results can include grogginess and poor academic performance, as well as mood and behavior changes.

In response, high schools in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, the metro area's fourth-largest, may start as much as an hour later next fall, said Superintendent John Currie. "People call and ask me, 'Knowing what you know about the research on when teenage students are most alert and ready to learn, isn't it time that this district looks at moving high school start times back, later in the morning?'" he said.

Farmington High School is considering a similar change that would push back the first bell from 7:35 a.m. to 8 a.m. or 8:20 a.m., said principal Ben Kusch. Dismissal, which is now at 2:20 p.m., could move to 3 p.m. or 3:15 p.m.

The school also is talking this fall about reconfiguring class schedules to have fewer class periods in a day and trimesters instead of semesters, but that decision could be made independently of a change in the school's start time, he said.

High schools in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district start classes about 7:30 a.m. and wrap up shortly before 2:30 p.m. If the district delays the first bell, classes could be dismissed about 3 p.m.; that could mean shortening the school day by a few minutes, depending upon how late the start time goes, Currie said.

Because the district's school buses run three routes in the morning -- one each for high school, middle school and elementary students -- pushing back the first high school bells would probably mean starting middle schools 15 or 20 minutes earlier. Elementary school schedules might not change much, Currie said, though a specific bus schedule hasn't been worked out.

District staff in Farmington think they may have found a way to start classes at the high school later without affecting other schedules, said Jeff Priess, the district's finance director.

Largely positive response

In the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, reaction from parents has been largely positive, said Currie, who has been bouncing the idea off parents at school site council meetings this fall. Still, some teachers and parents have concerns.

"This is kind of a mixed bag to me. I think there are as many pros as cons," said Mary Hautman, a parent on the Apple Valley High School site council who also works at Rosemount High School. Hautman said she thinks the district should probably make the change if research supports it, and many students seem to like the idea.

Still, she said, parents have concerns about how the change would affect their home lives.

Many parents want to know how a late dismissal would affect after-school activities. Some parents who work are concerned about leaving home before their high school students get up in the morning, while others aren't thrilled about middle school children getting home earlier in the afternoon.

Hautman's youngest son is a sophomore in high school, but if she still had kids in middle school she said she probably would oppose the change. "I think that I would rather have my high school student home alone after school without supervision than a middle school student."

The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district plans to launch an online survey in mid-October to gather feedback about the idea. In November, Currie said he hopes to bring a proposal to the school board, which could make a final decision that month or in December.

The Farmington school board hasn't yet been presented with a detailed late-start proposal, either, Priess said. The decision could be made this fall, but the district would gather feedback from residents beforehand, he said.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016