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School start time debate set for Tuesday

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By Wren Propp

Changing the start times for students in Los Alamos Public Schools will be debated Tuesday at a meeting of the school board.

Students, parents, staff and community members have been talking about whether starting later – to help students get more and better sleep – should be put in place next school year.

The board is scheduled to take action on Tuesday at its 5:30 p.m. meeting at the Administrative Board Room, 2075 Trinity Drive.

New Mexico First, a public policy think tank, was hired by the district to study the issue. A white paper, a myriad of community discussions, alternative proposals, and a final position paper have been produced to look at the issue. The final paper is available on the school district’s website.

A few school districts in New Mexico and others throughout the country have adopted later start times to address a lack of sleep on the part of students, according to the study.

Recent research has shown that older teenagers have a different sleep cycle than younger children and older adults. The “deep” part of older teenagers’ sleep cycle, needed for regenerative rest, starts later, according to the studies.

Representatives of New Mexico First told the board at its work session Nov. 30 that the community was equally split on the issue.

Many community members, however, did not want school to end later, they reported. Many students and parents also wanted after-school activities to continue at the current time.

A group of staff at the high school also developed a proposal that would give students there a choice, or a “z” schedule.

Students who didn’t want the “z” schedule – designed to start later but end at the same time as those on the traditional schedule – could have classes start at the traditional time.

Two other options offered in the New Mexico First final proposal would push up the start time for elementary-age students, to 8 a.m. from the current 8:20 a.m. start time, and offer later start times than current times at the high school and middle school.

In Option 1, start time for the high school would be 8:50 a.m. and 9 a.m. for the middle school.

Option 2 offers a start time of 8:30 a.m. at the high school and 8:40 a.m. at the middle school. Currently the high school starts at 7:50 a.m. and the middle school starts at 8 a.m.

Option 1 and 2 also change the time school day ends at all three grade levels. Elementary students would be released at 3 p.m., not the current 3:20 p.m. in both options.

In Option 1, the high school would release students at 4:10 p.m., when a 35-minute academic time ends, and the middle school would release students at 4 p.m.

In Option 2, high school students would be let go at 3:50 p.m. following the completion of the 35-minute academic time, and middle school students would be released at 3:40 p.m.

Currently, students at the high school end their day at 3:10 p.m., after the conclusion of the 35-minute academic period; middle school students are released at 3 p.m.

The lunch period at the middle school would be nearly 45 minutes to an hour later than its current time, depending on the option. At the high school, lunch would be later by 40 minutes to an hour compared to the current lunch schedule.

The board may also consider keeping the schedules the same.