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Board rejects later high school start

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The District 196 School Board on Monday voted down a proposal to change school start times.

By a unanimous 6-0 vote, the board rejected a measure that would move high school start times back by 50 minutes, while moving middle school start times ahead a half-hour. The proposal, brought to the board by superintendent John Currie, was to change the bus schedules in preparation for a change in start times.

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"I have no doubt that down the road, as we consider this, we might move to later start times for the high schools," board member Art Coulson said. "But I've been concerned with some of the issues raised in the community. I am not sure that at this point we know enough about how we are going to work through those implications to make this decision."

Later school start times have been recommended by the Minnesota Medical Association since 1994 and many districts have made the switch. District 196 has been against the changes throughout, but have come closer to making the switch.

But for the board members and many members of the community, there are many unresolved issues. Much of the concern lies with moving the start of the day 30 minutes earlier for middle school-aged students and with the affect on co-curricular activities for all interested individuals.

For schools that have implemented the change, data has shown improved attendance and fewer tardies, but there has been no direct correlation with academic performance.

The Farmington School District approved later high school start times this week. The South Washington County School District will consider the option later this school year.

"Changing start times just lets students and parents off the hook," said Marc Bumgarner, a 14-year resident of Rosemount with two kids currently in the district. "We are trying to prepare our kids to be productive adults in the working world, college, military or whatever endeavor they choose, and in a real world, start times don't change.

"We don't have to make this change just because it seems like the popular thing to do in the other school districts."

The change would have resulted in high schools starting at 8:20 a.m. and ending at 3:10 p.m. instead of the current 7:30 a.m. and 2:20 p.m. times.

As a result, due to the size of the district and a shortage of available buses, the middle schools would need to switch start times with the high schools. Middle schools would have started at 7:30 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. with the school day finishing at 2:25 p.m. instead of the current 3 p.m.

Elementary school changes would have remain staggered, but had their start times change as well.

"I'm reminded of throwing a stone in a pond and you have a lot of ripples that spread out," board member Bob Schutte said. "There are a lot of ripples on this one that really haven't been addressed. So, I'm fairly uncomfortable, as are most of the respondents that I have talked to."

Edina was the first Minnesota high school to implement the later start times in 1996.

The later start times have been recommended by the Minnesota Medical Association following research by Johns Hopkins and Brown universities, which showed high school students can benefit from additional sleep due to biological changes in their bodies during puberty.

"I do not dispute the fact that high school students are sleep-deprived," Bumgarner said while addressing the board. "So are the vast majority of active and productive adults. This is the result of the choices that every individual makes. I believe there is a case to be made here that many of the achievement-oriented individuals in our schools that this proposal is supposed to help are actually the ones that want this change the least."

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