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Start time debate worth having in OKC school district

The Oklahoma City school board is considering a change that really could make a difference in student performance — later start times for the school day. This idea deserves every consideration.

During a work session this week, board members received a tentative recommendation from district officials who have been studying the potential change. Data gathered from the first semester of this school year bolsters their point.

Brad Herzer, assistant superintendent of secondary schools, noted that district high schools that begin their day at 7:35 a.m. had an average of 8.8 absences for their first period, more than any hour in the school day. The number of first-period tardies for high schoolers totaled 52,741, compared with 14,133 for second period.

During the first semester, absences caused 386 high school students to receive no credit for their first-period class, despite passing the course. For second period, 200 students failed to receive credit; the totals were lower for the remainder of the day.

Changing to a later start time “will have an impact on the number of students who receive credit, which leads to increasing graduation rates (and) less likelihood of dropouts,” Herzer told the board. “I think we all agree it’s the right thing to do.”

Numerous studies support the idea of beginning school later in the morning, particularly for teenagers. The start time for Oklahoma City high schools (except for Classen School of Advanced Studies at Northeast, which begins at 8:20 a.m.) is among the earliest in the state for ninth- through 12th-graders.

The district’s elementary schools begin at 8:20 a.m. Middle schools start their day at 9:10 a.m.

Under consideration is a change to an 8:40 a.m. start time for high schools, with classes finishing by 3:30 p.m. The elementary school day would be from 7:50 a.m. to 2:40 p.m., with middle schools operating from 9:30 a.m. to 4:20 p.m.

Identical start times for elementary, middle and high schools aren’t possible because of challenges related to the bus schedule. Thus, all schools would have to adjust if the high school start times are changed.

However, it’s still worth considering because of the potential benefit to students. At the work session, Herzer cited the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends middle schools and high schools begin classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to give students a chance to get eight to 10 hours of sleep.

Board members were supportive of the potential changes, but some said they would rather implement them in the 2021-22 school year. That’s reasonable.

A recommendation from Superintendent Sean McDaniel could come by March. “Although the research is strong, we want to make sure this would be a fit for OKCPS,” McDaniel said. Drowsy students will hope that it is.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›