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Why did WCSD decide not to push back the bell schedule?

The outside of a white tile building with a green sign and white letters that read, “Administration Building Washoe County School District.”
Lucia Starbuck
/
KUNR Public Radio
Washoe County School District’s administration building.";

The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees has decided not to move forward with changing the bell schedule for K-12 students. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck has been following this issue with Fiona Perreault, a student reporter with our youth media program. They spoke to News Director Michelle Billman about the community concerns that swayed this decision.

Michelle Billman: The school board discussed changing school start times during its October meeting. Can you talk about what happened at that meeting?

Lucia Starbuck: The school districts sent a survey to staff, students, families and the community. The survey listed different start times, and the cost and additional bus drivers required for each option. The most popular vote was for Option A; this would have pushed all start times back by 30 minutes. This option also didn't create new costs and didn't require additional bus drivers, so the board made a preliminary decision to move forward with this option.

Billman: What are some of the benefits to starting school later?

Starbuck: Research shows there are sleep benefits for middle and high schoolers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends secondary students start at 8:30 am or later, in order to get sufficient sleep. I spoke to Lisa Meltzer about this. She's a pediatric sleep psychologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado. She was asked to research the impacts on student sleep while a local school district near her, slightly smaller than Washoe County's, changed their bell schedule. The Denver high schoolers started 70 minutes later, and middle schoolers started 40 minutes to an hour later. I should note that is longer than what Washoe County was proposing.

“We saw significant reduction in the number of students who were sleep deprived, as well as the number of students who reported feeling sad or anxious, as well as feeling more alert and able to participate in their first period courses,” Meltzer said.

Billman: So, it's clear that there are some benefits tied to sleep. What are some of the potential drawbacks for having secondary students start later?

Starbuck: The Washoe County School District Board met again last week to review some of these concerns. For middle and high schoolers, there were worries that pushing schedules back by 30 minutes would put student athletes in rush hour traffic, around 5 pm after games, and the proposed bell schedule could limit field trip time.

Billman: But a lot of the concerns stemmed around elementary school students starting later. Is that right?

Starbuck: Yes, so under the board's preliminary decision, most primary students would have gone to class from 10 to four, and that raised a bunch of concerns about childcare. Some students may need to be in before school programs for up to three hours, and who would bear the brunt of those costs? Their families, their parents, adults at home. And the organizations running these programs are facing staffing shortages. I spoke to Mike Wurm, the president of the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows.

“For the first time, since I've been at the Boys & Girls Club in my 27 years, we actually have all of our facilities are open, but we have waiting lists on about 60% of them because we don't have enough staff to handle all the kids that want to come to the club,” Wurm said.

Starbuck: There were also concerns that weather delays would have elementary schoolers starting class at noon, and they might miss a meal.

Billman: And, Fiona, you've been covering this story alongside Lucia, and you spoke to a mom who echoed a lot of these concerns. What did she tell you?

Fiona Perreault: I had the opportunity to speak to Megan Baroska. She's a working mom of a first and second grader at Hunsberger Elementary. She starts her workdays at 7 am, so her elementary schoolers, like the majority of students who utilize before school programs, already need to be out of the house early.

“Getting a five, six, seven, eight-year-old out the door in the morning, they need to be fed, they need to be helped with [getting] dressed. They cannot get out the door and get to the bus stop on their own,” Baroska said.

Perreault: She was also worried about how her sons would participate in sports and Boy Scouts after school. I should mention, there was a discussion about starting elementary schools earlier, but that would have a big price tag and require additional bus drivers — that we already have a shortage of.

Billman: So, what did the Washoe County School Board ultimately decide here?

Perreault: During their meeting last week, the Trustees voted to reverse their preliminary decision. School Board President Angie Taylor initially voted in favor of the bell change but reconsidered due to labor shortages and potential costs.

“I think this is not the time to do this. I would like to see us wait until we're in a better position and we can really have some viable options,” Taylor said.

Perreault: There's no set timeline, but the board said that they'll revisit this after doing more research.

KUNR Youth Media’s Fiona Perreault is a senior at Reno High. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck coordinates the program for her service project as a corps member for Report for America. KUNR’s Youth Media program is in partnership with the Washoe County School District.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America focusing on community reporting and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Local community issues are her passion, including the affordable housing crisis, homelessness, a lack of access to healthcare, protests and challenges facing vulnerable communities in northern Nevada.
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