High school start times in the Gilbert Unified School District could change again next school year as officials discuss possible options.
Alternatives include starting the high school’s first hour one hour later at 8:30 a.m., overlapping lunch hours, taking away the “A” hour or leaving the schedule as is.
Last July, the Gilbert district added 24 minutes more per day of instructional time to comply with state officials’ new interpretation of the instructional time law.
Those extra minutes were added in the morning so they wouldn’t interfere with bus schedules, and that made high schoolers start earlier. “A” hour, an optional early morning class before the regular school day, now starts at 6:30 a.m., and first hour begins at 7:30 a.m.
The move upset some parents because the hours were changed about two weeks before school started, and they complained it was just too early for their teens. Many of the students take the extra early class to make up for Mormon seminary or other electives throughout the day.
If the district didn’t increase instructional time to meet the law’s requirements, it would lose about $1 million from the state because a student who is not considered full-time does not get full funding, said Superintendent Dave Allison.
The change was mainly due to seniors who leave early and do not take at least four hours of classes. That’s about 650 students in the district, Allison said.
The discussion is back on the table because district officials, including the school board, vowed last year to look at the issue again for the 2009-10 school year.
“I realized it wouldn’t be easy. It’s a cultural change in terms of families,” Allison said. “We felt it was an appropriate decision at that time.”
After two months of research, Allison gave a Feb. 10 presentation taking a look at research on teenage sleep patterns, implications of a later start time, bus schedules, and pros and cons of overlapping lunches.
He gave numbers of how many students look after their siblings before and after school, and talked about East Valley Institute of Technology attendance, athletics and traffic problems.
Allison recommended keeping the “A” hour because of the number of students who take it, the increased math and science credits and certain courses that are only offered during that hour.
He said the “positive” change with the added minutes is the “72 hours more of instructional time for students.” For the first time, all district high schools start at the same time, and the extra time “equalized” the time with other nearby districts, he said.
“We didn’t want to put our students at a disadvantage,” Allison said.
Overlapping lunches, which would give students shorter lunch times and a shortened school day, wouldn’t allow schools to accommodate all students in specialty classrooms, such as science labs, during the lunch period, Allison said.
Now, one group goes to lunch while another is in class, and vice versa, leaving classrooms open for certain classes. If the lunches overlap, this couldn’t happen, he said.
The school board is expected to continue discussing options at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the district office, 140 S. Gilbert Road, Gilbert.