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Elementary school will start earlier

ICCSD sets bell schedule for upcoming year

IOWA CITY– Bells will ring at 7:55 a.m. for elementary school children next year, and 8:50 a.m. for secondary school. The change was made by a unanimous vote by the Iowa City Community School District Board of Directors on Feb. 9.
Currently, elementary schools run 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., with junior high and high schools running from 8 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.
The board discussed options between a 7:45 and 8 a.m. start time for younger children, and acknowledged high school students might like to get out of school earlier. But with elementary school starting first—as recommended by the task force and confirmed by community input—and the amount of time buses need to be ready, getting out much earlier does not seem possible, directors said.
Last year, the school board decided to alter the bell schedule, a decision many felt was made without enough time to gather community input, said Director Lori Roetlin, who sits on the bell schedule task force. Brady Shutt with the Iowa City Education Association said many elementary families report enduring some hardship due to later start times.
This year, the board assembled a task force to review the bell schedule and held two listening posts to hear community opinions. At both listening posts, most parents said they agreed with elementary schools starting earlier.
A group of students from Iowa City High School and Iowa City West High School conducted a survey of over 1,000 high school students, and found 53 percent of respondents preferred the start time move to 8:15 a.m. or later. The bell schedule preferred by the greatest number of students, though, was the current schedule, beginning at 8 a.m.
The survey also showed 77 percent of students responding said they slept less than eight hours per night.
During adolescence, biological sleep patterns shift toward later times, according to the National Sleep Foundation. This means teenagers naturally need to fall asleep and wake up later in order to get the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep for their age group.
Teenagers also tend to participate in more organized activities after school—82 percent of the City/West survey respondents said they planned to participate in an extracurricular activity, whether school-related or not—and have more homework to complete as well, sending them to bed later. For these reasons combined, the National Sleep Foundation recommends high schools begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
Of course, those extra activities for high school students also mean students may want to get out of school early enough to make their work shifts or after-school activities. As several directors pointed out, working is a necessity for many high school students who contribute to the family income.
According to a district cost analysis, using cost estimates provided by Durham Transportation Services, the change to a 55-minute gap between schools’ start times will save the district more than $116,000.
The cost for busing is lower when there is a wide enough gap between elementary and secondary start times, which allows the same set of buses to be used. If elementary schools ran 7:35 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. and secondary schools ran 8:30 a.m. to 3:40 p.m., the district would use 85 buses over the course of a day. If elementary schools ran 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., though, the number of buses needed would increase to 125. As a result, the later elementary scheduling option would have cost $865,550 more than the earlier.
“All our options are lousy,” Director Chris Liebig told the crowd at the Northwest Junior High listening post, adding the ideal start and end times of elementary and secondary schools were simply not possible with the high cost of adding extra buses to manage the routes. The goal, he said, is to find the option that will be the greatest compromise and allow district money to be applied to classroom and teacher expenses rather than busing.
The current direct cost of the routes is $2.13 million, not including equipment rental or fuel, and comes out of the general fund.