No change for LAPS start time

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LAPS board splits on changes to address sleep; parents, staff, coaches against idea

By Wren Propp

After two hours of comments from students, parents and coaches, and debate among themselves, the Los Alamos Public Schools board split three to two to retain current start times for its eight schools.

The vote on Tuesday night followed months of study of later start times – in the hope of improving adolescents’ opportunity to sleep.

More than 20 people, including several students, spoke in favor of keeping the same start time, and dismissal.

Many said they were concerned that starting later would mean ending later, and extracurricular activities, after-school pursuits and family time would have to be curtailed.

Despite the strong opposition to a potential change, board members Ellen Ben-Naim and Bill Hargraves said they supported pushing back start times to help address young peoples’ severe lack of sleep.

“We need to look at what we’re asking our kids to do,” Ben-Naim said.

Sleep is as necessary as food, shelter and clothing, she said.

Ben-Naim and Hargraves voted against a motion, made by board member Stephen Boerigter, to retain the current school starts times for all the schools. Board President Jenny McCumber and Board Vice President Andrea Cunningham, who was calling in from New Orleans, voted in support of Boerigter’s motion.

Ultimately, students will have to decide what they want, McCumber said.

At the board’s behest earlier this year, the district hired New Mexico First, a public policy nonprofit to look into delaying school start times. The organization offered a white paper compiling scientific research into older teens’ sleep cycle, which shows that adolescents drop into deeper, more restorative sleep later each night than those of older adults and younger children. A few school districts in the state, and several around the nation, have adopted later start times to address sleep deprivation in teens.

New Mexico First representatives facilitated discussion groups at the high school and other schools in October; a survey offered at the school district’s website showed opinions evenly split between making a change and no change. The organization’s conclusion, provided to the board in late November, stated that there was no strong majority for either.

Board member Hargraves said the drive to start later came from the district’s work on bringing more mental health to students’ wellbeing, an initiative started in 2015.

“I support the science…supporting `no change’ is not the way we need to be moving to lower our children’s stress,” he said right before the vote.

Students, parents and coaches lined up to argue that none of the three options, which would have changed the school day at elementary schools, the middle school and the high school, were viable for them.

If an option to start high school classes later is adopted, teens’ bodies and behavior would quickly adjust, and whatever gain in sleep would be lost, said Sonyia Williams, a junior at the high school and a member of the board’s Student Liaisons group. Williams, along with two other members of the group, asked the board to not delay start times.

A group of Accelerated Program (AP) language arts students provided a wide variety of points in support of no change, or for an alternative, adopting an optional “z” schedule at the high school where students could choose a later start time, but get out at the same time as other students, each day.

The board had four options regarding start time in front of them, including the option to leave the start time as it is now, and a “z” option solely for the high school, which would allow students there to choose a class schedule with a delayed start, but ends at the same time as the traditional schedule.

At the request of Ben-Naim, a discussion about a survey of high school students regarding homework was inserted within the start-time discussion.

Board members also debated whether it is under their purview to direct operations at the high school.