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Anacortes School District considers changing start times

January 18, 2019
A community meeting was held Wednesday morning to discuss changing start times at four Anacortes schools.

ANACORTES — The Anacortes School District is discussing whether to change start times at four of its seven schools.

“This has been a pretty hot conversation across the nation for the past decade or so,” Superintendent Mark Wenzel said at a community meeting Wednesday morning at the district office.

In Anacortes, the issue was first raised in 2017, Wenzel said, when a group of about 200 parents asked the district to push back the 7:30 a.m. start times at the middle and high schools.

The suggestion came after a nationwide push by the American Academy of Pediatrics to get middle and high school start times pushed back in order to best fit the sleep needs and changing brain chemistry of the students.

“The early start time goes against their natural development,” Wenzel said.

Later start times, the organization states, lead to better grades, improved attendance and lowered rates of obesity and depression.

Ideally, the organization states, middle and high school students should start at 8:30 a.m.

In the past few years, Wenzel said, the Bellingham and Seattle school districts have made the change.

After two community surveys, which gathered input from parents, students and teachers, Wenzel said about 71 percent were in favor of a change in start times.

Making a change is not an easy task for the district, namely because of transportation.

Because the district does not have boundaries for its elementary schools — meaning parents can request which of the district’s three schools to send their child to — district buses make stops at every school.

“That creates some limitations,” Wenzel said.

To accommodate that system, the district needs an hour between the start times at its elementary schools and the start times at its middle and high schools, Wenzel said.

The district proposes changing Fidalgo Elementary School’s start time from 8:15 a.m. to 9 a.m., the middle school’s start time from 7:30 to 8 a.m., and the start times at Anacortes and Cap Sante high schools from 7:30 to 8:05 a.m.

That still does not get the district to the pediatric association’s recommendation, but is a step in the right direction, Wenzel said.

“It’s not 60 minutes because of the logistical restraints,” he said. “We’re not seeing a viable path way right now to get to that 8:30 start time.”

A problem parents raised with that plan involves Fidalgo Elementary School.

Some parents choose to send their children there because the start time, which is 45 minutes earlier than the district’s other elementary schools, is more convenient for their work schedules.

If school started later, parents said they would want the district to provide pre-school options at Fidalgo, something Wenzel said the district would work toward.

“We cannot make a later start work at secondary without changing the start time at Fidalgo,” Wenzel said.

Also discussed at the meeting was for the district to set school boundaries for its elementary schools to keep buses from having to go to every school, or to buy more buses to eliminate the need for an hour between start times.

Adding buses may not help much due to a statewide shortage of bus drivers.

Parents also suggested flipping the start times, essentially making the elementary schools start at 7:30 a.m. and the middle and high schools at 9.

That solution, Wenzel said, was not popular among the middle and high school students.

Wenzel said the students feared that getting out of school later would make it harder for them to work or participate in sports.

The district will hold another community meeting about changing start times at 6:30 tonight at the high school library.

The school board may take action on the issue as early as next month.

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