SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – On Wednesday evening, members of the Salt Lake City School Board met with parents, students, and teachers at Northwest Middle School to listen to concerns about a later start time, which could affect all of the schools in the district.
Amanda Longwell, a parent advocate for students with disabilities, is concerned about the ways in which a potential switch to later school start times could impact students with disabilities.
It impacts the bus routes and schedules she said, which then, in turn, impacts the ability to deliver all students to school on time.
“When they are delivered late due to busing constraints, then they are denied FAPE, which is their free and appropriate public education,” Longwell said. “We are seeking for our children to be able to be seen as a community member of the classroom and of the school, and those students with disabilities, because they run late, they are treated differently.”
In addition, she said the schedule change could impact the ability of teacher’s aides to be in the classroom to assist students with disabilities.
Yándary Chatwin, Spokesperson for the Salt Lake City School District, said the school board is always looking to do what’s best for students and there’s been a lot of research showing the benefits of later school start times.
“Among those, are things like improved academic performance, reduced rates of anxiety and depression- and those two specifically (depression and anxiety), strongly correlate to higher suicide rates, which is a very, very big issue here in Utah,” she said.
However, Chatwin said the school board has also been informed of concerns from parents about the change.
“Some of the parents who opposed the concepts of late start express concerns for their own daily family routine: the logistics of childcare, of drop-off and pickup, lack of flexibility in the parents’ work schedule. For some families, it’s really important that teenagers are able to work and contribute to the family income,” she said. “If school ends later, then they have fewer hours in the day to do that.”
Chatwin said the board is considering several different schedule options. The late start is specifically for the high schools in the district, but due to the way the busing routes run, start times for middle and elementary schools could also be affected. Some of the potential shifts in start times for different schools range from as small as 15 minutes to 30 minutes or an hour.
Chatwin said this is a change that the board has discussed for the last five or six years in board meetings and in study sessions. They have brought in experts to speak about this issue and discuss components like mental health and academic improvement. They also made efforts to conduct focus groups with different parents, she said.
“They made sure that the survey was representative of the demographics, the languages, trying to control as much as they could to really make sure it really was a representative focus group,” Chatwin said.
The Wednesday night meeting was one of four listening meetings across the city where the school board could hear input from anyone affected by the policy.
Katherine Kennedy, a Board member of the Salt Lake City School District 3, listened to parents’ concerns at the meeting. She said she was very glad to hear community thoughts and questions and was happy to see groups from different parts of the city there.
“I think that there were people who had some real concerns at this one,” Kennedy said of the Wednesday night meeting. “At the other listening tour, people seemed to acknowledge the benefits of late start more, but I think that’s why we’re having these things so if there are questions from the community and concerns, that we are able to listen to them and hear them.”
The Salt Lake City School Board has not yet announced when the final decision will be made regarding changes in schedule.
But, members are actively considering the decision, according to Chatwin.
“The school board really is looking to do what’s best for students, but they also are being careful to be mindful of the ways in which families might be negatively impacted, so that’s why it’s so important that members of the community do come out to these listening tours,” she said.
The next two stops on the listening tour will take place on Friday, January 17, 2020, at 6 p.m. at Hillside Middle School and Saturday, January 18, 2020, at 10 a.m. at the Glendale Public Library.
Visit Salt Lake City School District’s website for more information about late start proposal.