By BEENA RAGHAVENDRAN
Parents jammed a meeting Thursday night to raise concerns about a proposal for 7:30 a.m. start times for most Wayzata elementary schools so high school students can start later.
Superintendent Chace Anderson’s recommended school start time scenario would mean most elementary schools in the district would start at 7:30 a.m., pushing back Wayzata High School’s first bell from 7:30 a.m. to 8:20. The start time proposal was spurred by the opening of Meadow Ridge Elementary in fall 2016.
The Wayzata school board expects to make a decision on the start time proposal Oct. 12.
Anderson backs the proposal because of research on the benefits of sleep for adolescents, as well as his conversations with staff. He said that though every student wants a later start, after talks with staff, elementary school students are observed to function better in early hours.
The district can’t afford all schools starting at the same time, he said.
“Everybody wants that sweet spot of the 8:15,” Anderson said. “It’s a really nice time to start for many kids.”
The proposal has sparked outcry from parents — many who have younger children in the district. A few of them interjected during the question-and-answer session with a moderator reading questions, frustrated that the panel wasn’t answering their concerns. Some were clad in gold shirts that read “Well-being and safety for YOUNG kids matter TOO.”
During the almost three hour-long meeting in the Central Middle School auditorium, sleep medicine Dr. Conrad Iber, school start times researcher Kyla Wahlstrom and sleep-specializing pediatrician John Garcia discussed sleep studies and optimal sleep times for students.
More sleep is better for all children, they concluded. Wahlstrom noted that data showed positive results for high schoolers with later start times, but that there wasn’t research specifically about elementary school early start time effects.
“We don’t have the research to claim that it’s detrimental to the children,” she said. “We don’t also know that it’s beneficial.”
Wayzata High School’s start time is early compared to neighboring high schools. Eden Prairie High School starts at 7:50 a.m. and Minnetonka High School starts at 8 a.m.; Wayzata is almost an hour earlier than Edina High School’s 8:25 a.m. start time.
Anderson noted that adding more school buses that would keep students on for 45 minutes would cost $1 million annually, and he’s worried there won’t be enough bus drivers to complete routes.
Parent concerns ranged from earlier bedtimes to children waiting outside before 7 a.m. for buses. Some worried that the district would back a proposal without any data on its predicted impact on younger students.
“Why would you take this gamble?” said Ethan Roberts, who has two children in elementary school in Wayzata.