Gowanda to form ‘steering committee’ for later start time

GOWANDA — Despite its controversial nature in other school districts, a later start time for Gowanda Middle/High School students was met with enthusiasm by members of the Gowanda Central School Board, and there were no members of the public who commented on the matter at Wednesday night’s board meeting. Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson made a presentation on the potential benefits and challenges of a later start time for middle and high school students, who currently start their school day at 7:15 a.m. and 7:32 a.m., respectively.

“Historically, this is probably the third time in my tenure here that we’ve talked about this at our table,” Anderson began. “It’s timely and I know other schools across the area are contemplating later starts for students.” Renewed interest in the discussion was prompted by board member Mark Nephew a few weeks ago, according to Anderson.

Anderson asked board members to consider his evidenced-based presentation and focus on what is in students’ best interest. He referenced several peer-reviewed medical journal articles, which discussed the “circadian rhythms” of teens and the level of melatonin in their changing brains, beginning during puberty. “Basically, kids are designed to stay up later,” Anderson explained. “This particular change peaks from 17 to 19, but really encompasses all adolescents.”

The superintendent acknowledged that there are other reasons why students do not get enough sleep, outside of school start times. “We can’t stop people from playing Fortnite or talking on the phone or control people’s biological clocks,” he admitted.

“But when you look at the evidence, the evidence suggests that this early start time is one really key modifiable contributor to kids’ insufficient sleep.”

Anderson went on to point out that the average start time for schools in New York is 8 a.m.; however, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a start time of no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Anderson cited several advantages of a later start time including reduced rates of “depression, tardiness, absenteeism, drowsy driving and reduced risk of metabolic and nutrition deficits.” Students who start later also maintain better grades and perform better on state tests, he reported.

Anderson acknowledged some criticism, including continued instances of tardiness regardless of start time, and conflicting schedules involving sports, buses, extra-curricular activities and BOCES. Speaking of these conflicts, he said, “They’re not insurmountable by any means.” Possible solutions include a single start time for all students or switching the elementary school to the earlier start time instead.

He concluded his presentation by recommending that the board create a steering committee comprised of parents, teachers, board members, coaches and others. The purpose of this committee would be to review potential barriers and brainstorm solutions.

Board member Lynn Guzzetta said, “I think it’s a wonderful idea, but I do know that in the past, that our one start time idea was met very negatively. They didn’t want little kids with the big kids on the bus.”

Another board member pointed out that North Collins Central School has had a single start time and bus run for several years. Nephew said, “We’d need a few more buses,” and went on to say that there has always been an argument against “big kids with the little kids” but that these students already live together in the community.

Board member Dana Szalay said, “It’s different when you’re on a bus. We don’t have bus aides.” She went on to say that she liked the idea of putting together a committee and sending out surveys to students, parents, teachers and coaches to get their take on the idea.

Board President Cindy Sutherland asked if there were any objections to starting a steering committee. Board members unanimously agreed to the formation of one, and Sutherland asked Anderson to get back to the board once the committee is underway.

The capital project vote is set for next Thursday, Dec. 13 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the middle school library. The next meeting of the Gowanda Board of Education is Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. in the middle school library.

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