Students in Indianapolis’ largest district will likely start and end school at different times next year. But when it comes to choosing a new schedule, the district is facing tension between research supporting later start times for high school students and the practical challenges facing families.
At a series of community forums last week, Indianapolis Public Schools asked parents to weigh in on a new school schedule for next year. One of the essential questions facing families is whether the district should have elementary school students start earlier in order to allow high-schoolers to begin school later. Currently, most high schools start first, at 7:20 a.m.
Having later start times for high school students could have a broad range of benefits. A federally funded study found that when school started later, students did better on several measures, including mental health and attendance, and at some schools, scores on standardized tests rose. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that high schools delay their start times to 8:30 a.m. or later. Citing that research, some members of the Indianapolis Public Schools board have urged the district to consider changing its high school start times.
Superintendent Lewis Ferebee highlighted his own experience as the parent of a 13-year-old.
“I can definitely see the difference in how we wake him up in the morning now, and what that experience was like when he was a 5- or 6-year-old,” Ferebee said. “He would pop up in the morning then.”
In addition to the possibility of moving high school start times later, the district may change school and bus schedules for practical reasons.
Many students will likely travel farther under a high school plan that will close nearly half the district’s campuses and allow students to select their schools based on academic focus rather than neighborhood. To make bus rides shorter for high-schoolers, the district is considering increasing how far they might walk to stops and reducing the number of stops each bus makes, said transportation director Manny Mendez.
The district is also grappling with a shortage of bus drivers that makes it difficult to sustain the current schedule, which has three different start and end times. A new contract approved by the board last week, which raises the hourly base pay for bus drivers to $19.10, would help with that issue, Mendez said.
“We just do not have enough drivers,” Mendez said.
Since the same buses have to serve both high school and elementary school routes, any shift could present practical problems. If high schools start later, that would push elementary school schedules much earlier.
For several parents at the community meeting, that was a deal breaker.
Miki Hamstra, who has three sons in elementary school in the district, said if her children went to school earlier, it would put her in a child-care crunch in the afternoon.
“I totally support the sleep studies, but the problem is we don’t have a real option for that that would benefit the whole district,” said Hamstra, a doctoral student studying the science of learning. “Research is awesome, but we don’t have the resources to benefit from that.”
But Derrick Gant, a parent at Crispus Attucks High School, said he wants his daughter to continue going to high school early because it will prepare her for the workplace.
“We are prepping our children to be young adults,” Gant said. “So if we are pushing back the time for them to start school, that means we are pushing back the time they can go into work.”
Gant’s daughter Jerrice, who is a junior, said she is concerned about elementary school students walking to buses when it is still dark out, and she wants high-schoolers to get home first to watch over their younger siblings.
“I want to keep it exactly how it is now,” she said.
Proposed start times
Option one: High, middle, and innovation schools start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. Elementary schools start at 9:55 a.m., and end at 4:30 p.m.
Option two: High, middle, and innovation schools start at 9:55 a.m. and end at 4:55 p.m. Elementary schools start at 8:05 a.m. and end at 2:40 p.m.
Option three: High, middle, and innovation schools start at 8 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. Elementary schools start at 10:25 a.m. and end at 5 p.m.
Chalkbeat is a not-for-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.