LSS weighs changing school start times for 2017-18

New-LSS-logo-web-smallLakeland school leaders are debating what the best school start times are once they launch a middle school next year. They heard a scholarly presentation Monday night on why middle-school students need school start times of around 8:30 a.m. or later so the children aren’t fighting biology to stay alert no matter how good the teachers are and how early the children go to bed.

Dr. Valerie McLaughlin Crabtree, a consultant to the school district, presented evidence to the board on why children entering puberty really need later school start times. She is a licensed psychologist certified in behavioral sleep medicine and is currently the only pediatric sleep psychologist serving Tennessee.

Biologically, children in early puberty would normally go to sleep around 11 p.m. on their own and have enough sleep if they woke at 8 a.m., she said. Earlier bedtimes are not effective if the students can’t go to sleep. She noted that insufficient sleep in middle schoolers is associated with higher risks for drug use, mood problems and suicide risks. Less sleep is also associated with lower grades, lower test scores, sleepiness in school and tardies. The American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and other leading agencies back up the recommendations for a later school start time for middle schoolers.

She cited as a good source of general information for board members and citizens who want to research further.

Crabtree spoke to the board at the request of school board member Geoff Hicks, who has fielded numerous questions from parents inquiring about optimal school start times.

Lakeland Elementary School currently starts at 9 a.m. Although Principal Lockhart has advised Superintendent Ted Horrell she’d prefer to keep that time, she said she’s willing to adapt to the needs of the school district and its children. New Lakeland Middle Preparatory School Principal Matt Adler has said he prefers an 8 a.m. start time for middle school but he also will adapt as needed.

At the suggestion of board member Teresa Henry, the board is publishing a survey that will be available to Lakeland citizens through the afternoon of Nov. 25 so they can comment on preferred school start times for the 2017-18 school year.

Horrell noted that no one wants to make this decision based solely on financials, but he outlined how school start times will affect transportation costs:

  • Most economical: Keep the original plan to have one school start at 8 a.m. and the other start at 9 a.m. for the 2017-18 school year, which will be the final year of the current shared services transportation agreement. This would use 22 buses (probably 12 for the elementary and 10 for the middle school). Estimated cost: $352,800. The board strongly favored this option.
  • More expensive: Change to custom start times for the district, pay the penalty for leaving the shared services agreement one year early, but economize by keeping two different school start times, one hour apart, so extra buses would not be needed. Estimated cost: $518,400, plus an estimated $76,800 penalty.
  • Most costly: Change to custom start times for the district, pay the penalty for leaving the shared services agreement one year early, and have both schools start at the same time. Estimated cost: $950,400, plus an estimated $76,800 penalty. (This option is not being seriously considered as an option due to the high cost.)

The board will hold a special-called meeting shortly after Thanksgiving to vote on the school start times; watch for the time and date.

In other news, construction on Lakeland Middle Preparatory School is well underway, and the new principal gave an overview of curriculum plans at the board meeting, showing an intensive investment in planning to meet the needs of a diverse student body of youths in grades 5-8.