2006-08-17 / Front Page

Teens get 15 minutes more sleep time

By Donna K. Drago

At an emergency meeting held Tuesday night, the North Kingstown School Committee voted 4-2 to start high school at 7:20 a.m., 15 minutes later than last year's starting time.

North Kingstown High School is Jamestown's high school of record.

At its regular Aug. 9 meeting, the committee voted 4-2 to begin the high school day at 7:30 a.m. after listening to months of research that indicated that students learn better and have more academic success when they get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.

But moving the high school starting time impacted the starting times of the middle and elementary schools in North Kingstown - causing parents there to fume about having the youngest children being released from school as late as 3:40 p.m., which meant that many of them would not get dropped off by the bus until as late as 4:30 p.m.

Because North Kingstown uses the same buses to transport high schoolers, then middle schoolers, and finally elementary students to school, there was no way to move one starting time without impacting the starting times of every other grade level.

This is what Superintendent James Halley told the NK school board at last week's meeting, when he recommended a compromise starting time package that would have the high schoolers beginning at 7:15 a.m., with a dismissal at 1:45 p.m. The middle schools would start at 8:15 a.m. and end at 2:20 p.m. and the elementary schools would have a schedule that had them starting at 9:05 and ending at 3:25. Halley's proposal was rejected at the Aug. 9 meeting in favor of a motion made by school board member Dr. Denise Coppa, a physician who said that the later high school starting time was essential to the success of area teens.

Earlier in the summer, the Jamestown School Committee sent a letter to North Kingstown school board, supporting the later high school starting times because of the compelling research to support more sleeptime

for teens. At a School Committee meeting at which a member of the North Kingstown School Start Time Committee made a presentation, former Jamestown School Superintendent Kathy Sipala said she could successfully incorporate later start times into the Jamestown bus schedule without having a negative impact.

Because of the uproar the new starting times caused in North Kingstown in recent days, an emergency meeting of the NK school board was called for Tuesday, Aug. 15, night to reconsider the vote of Aug. 9.

About 200 parents showed up for the one-agenda-item meeting, which lasted just short of five hours.

All of the parents from Jamestown who chose to speak at the session told the North Kingstown board that they supported the later starting times.

Evan Smith of America Way said he supported a 7:30 a.m. starting time and admonished Cathy Kaiser, the Jamestown school board chairwoman, who had said earlier that she would understand a compromise to Halley's suggested starting time of 7:15, by telling Kaiser that he disagreed with her backing off on the later times. Dave Welsh of Old Walcott Avenue told the NK school board that he had read much of the research on later starting times for teens and that 8 a.m. would be better, but he would support the 7:30 a.m. time. "The science is out there," Welsh said.

Julia Held, the parent of a teen at NKHS and a member of the Jamestown school board, told the NK panel that she commended them for having the courage to make the decision to start high school at 7:30, noting that last year's decision to start at 7:05 a.m. had deleterious effects.

But for every one of the supporters of later high school starting times was the parent of an elementary school child who complained about the safety of having children getting off buses in the dark. The parents also complained about having difficulty finding and paying for additional child care, and the nearly three hours of "downtime" between when young children wake up and when they get on a North Kingstown bus after 9 a.m.

At one point in the meeting, Cathy Kaiser suggested thinking about a long-term goal that would necessitate legislative help, but would have the elementary school kids start their day at around 7 a.m. and have the high schoolers start at around 9 a.m. This drew some applause from parents.

North Kingstown's decision will not change the starting or ending times at the Jamestown schools, according to Principal Kathy Almanzor. The bus runs are now being finalized and will be printed in the Aug. 24 edition of the Jamestown Press, she said.

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