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North Allegheny School District puts hold on changing start times

Jamie Martines
| Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, 11:21 a.m.

The North Allegheny School District will hold off on instituting later start times at the high school, WPXI reports.

The school board tabled the plan during Wednesday's school board meeting in order to conduct further studies to see how much the changes could cost the district, Communications Director Emily Schaffer told WPXI.

The later start time would have started during the 2019-20 school year and would have moved the high school start time from 7:25 a.m. to 8 a.m.

The district has already conducted surveys of parents, staff and students to gauge interest in changing start times, and found that a majority of respondents favored the move at the high school level. The surveys followed several public community forums intended to inform and consult parents and staff on the matter.

Parents at Wednesday's meeting told WPXI that they were disappointed in the decision to hold off on delaying start times.

North Allegheny Superintendent Robert Scherrer told the Tribune-Review in November that district officials are worried about students' mental health and hope that delaying start times could help alleviate stress.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that middle and high schools start closer to 8:30 a.m., along with 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night for adolescents. Studies also show that getting more sleep could have a positive impact on teens' academic performance.

North Allegheny is one of several Western Pennsylvania school districts considering later start times and grappling with the logistical concerns that come with altering finely-tuned school schedules and budgets.

North Allegheny transports over 8,300 students across the district's 49 square miles each day. Buses make trips to about 40 different school locations and transportation accounts for about $6 million of the district's $157 million budget.

Adding buses could add $1 million to the transportation budget, Scherrer said.

The Avonworth, Baldwin-Whitehall, Pine-Richland and Woodland Hills school districts have all had such conversations in recent months.

At Woodland Hills for example, where high school students start classes at 7 a.m., officials are considering how to shuffle bus schedules and avoid the extra costs that could come with adding more bus routes.

Woodland Hills uses 120 buses to transport 7,200 students to 92 locations each day, with 3,850 students traveling to schools within the district and 3,350 heading to charter and private schools, school officials told the Tribune-Review in November.

Debates about later school start times extend across the state and country. The Mechanicsburg School District, near Harrisburg, along with schools in California, New Mexico and Boston are all considering changes.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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