Lake Oswego School District agrees to shift elementary start time
Lake Oswego School District officials have announced that elementary schools will start classes 10 minutes earlier in the 2018-19 school year, a change they say will have no impact on morning bus routes but alleviate stress on transportation schedules in the afternoon.
Christine Moses, the district's executive director of communications, said the adjustment will "enable us to run all of the junior high school buses on time and allow our drivers to deliver our elementary students to their enrichment activities after school."
Under the new schedule, the tardy bell at elementary schools will ring at 8:20 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m.; classes will be dismissed at 2 p.m. on early-release Thursdays and at 2:40 p.m. on regular days.
The change is the latest in a series of adjustments made by the district in the wake of recommendations from a Start Time Task Force composed of parents and staff members at all school levels. Based on prevailing research about student sleep patterns, the group suggested starting middle and high schools later and elementary schools earlier, and the School Board adopted those changes for the 2017-18 school year.
Morning bus schedules were adjusted again in October after the district encountered problems with congestion and overcrowding. But problems remained, according to Assistant Superintendent Michael Musick — especially at the end of the day, when traffic on Highway 43 consistently caused buses to run late at Lakeridge Junior High and created issues with getting strings students from Hallinan Elementary to Uplands on time.
"We have spent this year timing buses, riding buses, observing drivers, revising routes and understanding traffic patterns," Moses said, and the district concluded that starting and ending elementary schools 10 minutes earlier would alleviate the afternoon problems. Morning pickup times will remain the same in the fall, she emphasized, adding that "we hope this is the final change in start times."
Some elementary school parents remain frustrated by the changes, though, including Lake Grove parents Heidi Hammersley and Kati Radziwon. Both were involved in last year's discussion about changing start times districtwide and are still upset about what they see as a lack of community engagement.
They say that last year, they figured out a way to get all of the buses running on schedule in a way that would work for all of the schools. "Kati found a way to organize the buses so that everyone would arrive on time," Hammersley said.
The district adopted parts of their schedule, Hammersley says, but never consulted with them about it — even when the district faced problems implementing the new schedule in the fall.
"You would think, if you're having problems with something, you would contact the people who authored it. No one ever calls us or wants to work with us," she said.
Hammersley says it was late January when she first started getting texts about the discussion to change start times again, and she was hopeful the district would be willing to work with her and other parents this time around. But Radziwon says their efforts to reach out to the School Board and administrators were rebuffed.
"They seem to be afraid of parent involvement, and in a city like this, with highly educated and willing parents with the resources to help, that's a huge mistake," Radziwon said. "We were willing to help, willing to do the work."
Hammersley and Radziwon acknowledge that a 10-minute change doesn't seem like much, but they point out that start times for elementary schools will now be 50 minutes earlier than they were in the 2016-17 school year.
"This seemingly small adjustment means our youngest students are losing more sleep and facing more interruptions in the classroom as tardies continue to climb," Hammersley said.
Tardies at most elementary schools (with the exception of River Grove) have roughly doubled this year, which Radziwon and many others attribute to the earlier start time. The most drastic uptick has been at Oak Creek, where 1,325 tardies were recorded during the first semester of this year. That's up from 519 tardies during the same period in the 2016-17 school year, the district says.
Musick presented his start-time recommendation to the School Board at a meeting on April 16. He called the afternoon transportation issues at Lakeridge Junior High "a systemic problem," but said an extra 10 minutes at the end of the day would help bus drivers complete their routes on time.
Musick also touched on the problems transporting students to the strings program at Uplands from Hallinan, which is located across town. "We end up reimbursing parents for that tuition because we can't get the kids there on time," he said.
He said tardiness needs to be addressed on a "kid level" and that outreach needs to be done to help chronically tardy families fix the problem.
"We need to work with our families and talk to them about being on time," Musick said. "Every minute is important."
Board members expressed a variety of views at the meeting, but most were in favor of changing elementary start times. The most concerned member was Sara Pocklington, who worried that elementary parents were once again being left out of the discussion.
"My concern is that this was touched on relatively briefly several months ago. I really don't know that the elementary parent community has been fully engaged in this conversation," Pocklington said. "What I don't want to do is end up in the same situation where we send out a communication that this is happening, and then we have uproar from the elementary community, similar to how the last start time conversation went, and the bus barn conversation."
Pocklington also expressed concern that changing start times would unfairly impact the majority of elementary students whose buses are on time.
"My concern is that we are talking about shifting 2,800 students, versus dealing with some solutions that could potentially be put in the afternoon for 200 students on one day of the week," she said.
Board member Bob Barman expressed his support for the change, on the condition that it be aggressively communicated.
"All of that has to be explained. I think people need to understand that if you're going on a bus, nothing's changing. What we're really trying to do is get more flexibility at the end of the day."
Board member Rob Wagner also backed the change, saying that some people aren't focusing on the original purpose of changing start times. The Task Force's research showed that younger children need 9-11 hours of sleep per night and that teens need 8-10 hours. But less than 33 percent of high school students get eight hours of sleep, the studies showed.
The problem: Teens are physiologically predisposed to falling asleep between 10 p.m. and midnight, studies show, which means they have trouble going to bed earlier to get enough shuteye. Younger children, on the other hand, are able to turn in earlier without as much difficulty.
"I think overall we get lost in the fact that the intention here was driven out of student health and students' ability to learn," he said. "I think parents who are thinking about their driving schedule, or how they're getting their kid out of school, should just remember the why. It's really about putting the student at the center of the conversation and making sure they're healthy and ready to learn."