Vancouver Public Schools may push high school start times to 8:40 a.m. next year, as part of a slate of proposed changes that would also affect schedules at elementary and middle schools.
Superintendent Jeff Snell discussed the proposal at Tuesday’s school board meeting, citing a need to alleviate transportation struggles and improve mental health among older students.
High schools, which currently start at 7:30 a.m., would start at 8:40 a.m. Dismissal times would be pushed from 2:05 to 3:15 p.m.
Middle schools would see start times moved from 8:55 to 9:30 a.m. and dismissal times from 3:30 to 4 p.m.
Elementary schools would start 20 minutes earlier, at 8 a.m., and end at 2:30 p.m. rather than the current 2:50 p.m. Lincoln and Minnehaha Elementary schools, which currently operate on different schedules, would shift to match the rest.
Vancouver Flex Academy, Vancouver iTech Preparatory, and the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics would all see their schedules shifted five minutes later. The Gate Program and the Jim Tangeman Center would start and end 15 minutes earlier.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Elementary and the Vancouver Innovation, Technology and Arts Elementary schools — both of which are new — would begin at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:15 p.m.
Reasons for the changes
District leaders said Tuesday that the proposed changes were made based on a combination of research into student well-being, feedback from parents and a driver shortage that has challenged Vancouver’s current bus schedules.
“As a parent, I get regular e-mails multiple times a week from my children’s schools saying, ‘This bus is going to be 40 minutes late,’” said school board member Wendy Smith. “So if we can ensure our students are going to class on time, I think that’s a huge improvement.”
Snell said the group most affected by bus delays is elementary students, who ride the bus at a greater rate than older students and are least able to navigate the issue on their own. By “flip-flopping” those schedules, fewer students would be impacted by the ongoing driver shortage.
“Before we pushed back our start times in Evergreen, I was maybe getting six, seven students in a class when first period started. And then when we adjusted (the schedule), I had a full classroom,” said Smith, who teaches in Evergreen.
The American Academy of Pediatrics officially recommends that middle and high school students should start after 8:30 a.m., according to Vancouver school officials.
“It’s just hard for anybody to be alert and ready to learn at 7:40 regardless of age,” Smith said. “I don’t think that’s a teenager thing. I think that’s a human thing.”
The district’s administrators will collect community feedback in the coming weeks, and the school board will make a final decision about the schedule changes by the end of May. They hope to field feedback on how the proposals might affect community stakeholders via an online resource, ThoughtExchange.
Snell said Tuesday that he expects the changes to be hard on some families. For example, the district would likely have to add more after-care options to accommodate families who might not be able to pick up their students at the new times, especially in the first year or so.
More information about the proposed changes can be found on the district’s website at https://vansd.org/healthy-start-times. The interactive survey to share thoughts about the change can be found at https://my.thoughtexchange.com/scroll/837005410/welcome.