SPECIAL REPORT: District 51 Explores Idea of Later School Start Times for Teens

D51 says if they decide to change bell times it wouldn't happen until Aug. 2017.

MESA COUNTY, Colo. - District 51 continues to look further into the possibility of later start times for local middle and high schools, but are facing some challenges when it comes to the impact it would have on bus schedules and extra curricular activities.  

School District 51 made this inquiry in light of research done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that indicates later school start times, gives students a chance to get an adequate amount of sleep needed to improve health, safety and academic performance. 

"We have research that shows says that older students do better if they start later.. we'd like to see if we can take advantage of that fact," District 51's Chief Operations Manager, Philip Onofrio said. "If we push school start times an hour later, school for high schools would be ending around 3:30."

Although, altering the bell schedules may sound like a simple task representatives from both the athletics department and Student Transportation of America (STA) say there is a lot to take into consideration.

"In the morning we have 55 minute window so it could be accomplished in the morning. The issue we have is when the schools get out in the afternoon," STA's operation manager, Shane Anderson said. 

To find the most cost effective solution for both the district and the students, STA has presented six different scenarios for the school board to choose from.

The first option would consolidate nearly a dozen routes that currently pick up both elementary and secondary to pick up both.

"We felt that just at the first snapshot potentially twelve different routes can be consolidated and combined to be more effective and maximize the transportation," Anderson said. 

Secondly, STA included an option that would flip elementary and secondary school start times. 

Option three would adjust only secondary school times by 40 minutes. 
 
The fourth option would revert back to the original walk zones of 1 mile for elementary and 2 miles for secondary, which Anderson says would propose a need for five additional routes.
 
Option five would combine options one, three and four, resulting in consolidated routes, a 40 minute bell time shift and reduced walk zones.
 
"Ideally, this on takes care of all the challenges the district is trying to accomplish..it did increase the fleet, however it became the most effective and maximized option," Anderson adds.
 
In addition, Anderson says District 51 can try an entirely different approach-- the three tier system.
 
This particular option would stagger start times for elementary, middle and high school and allow most buses to run routes for all three levels. 
 
"It'll create an opportunity to pick up an elementary, middle and high school in that process so that vehicle is going out more and it's the same cost per day," Anderson said.
 
If District 51 decided to go this route, high school would run roughly from 7:50 a.m. to 2:50 p.m., middle from 8:40 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. and elementary from 9:10 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. 
 
While STA has several options to work with , Athletics Director, Paul Cain says extra curricular activities do not.
 
"Your sports have practice outdoors, obviously when you go later you have limited light. We don't have facilities that have lights on them.. it all comes down to daylight," Cain said.
 
Cain says if the bell schedules change, daylight wouldn't be the only issue.
 
"Our student athletes and in extra curricular activities would miss more school time because games would still start about the same time.. If we are talking 30 minutes, I think we can stay within the realm of the way we do stuff now,"Cain adds.

The school board, along with STA and the athletics department will continue to study the various options.

 School District 51 says if they decide to make this change it wouldn't happen until August 2017. 


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