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New high school start times could be coming in Nevada

Updated September 6, 2023 - 10:09 pm

The Nevada State Board of Education approved draft language Wednesday for a new regulation that would eventually require all high schools to begin classes no earlier than 8 a.m.

Draft language will go to the state’s Legislative Council Bureau. Then, a regulation will come back to the board and a regulation hearing will be held to get public feedback.

Students and parents have voiced concerns about how most Clark County School District high schools start around 7 a.m. Proponents say research shows early start times are associated with academic and safety issues, as well as a lack of sleep for teenagers.

Board President Felicia Ortiz said the board is “not making a sweeping decision” or forcing districts to comply immediately, and is providing the opportunity for options and waivers.

“The intent of this is to ensure that our kids are first and foremost in all of our decisions,” she said.

Ortiz said the change will ensure students’ safety and their mental health.

But school district superintendents statewide say decisions should be made at a local level. They’ve also raised concerns about effects on busing, extracurricular activities and student work schedules.

The Clark County School District will take all steps — including litigation — on the issue, General Counsel Luke Puschnig said during a public comment period.

It’s clear the Nevada Legislature has not authorized the Nevada Department of Education to make “this type of sweeping change,” he said.

Puschnig said he sent a letter Aug. 14 to the department asking for the legal arguments it will use to establish start times and hasn’t received a response.

If a regulation is eventually adopted, requirements would apply to all school districts and public charter schools. A gradual implementation would start during the 2024-2025 school year.

Draft regulation language says that districts and charter schools with campuses that start classes before 8 a.m. “must provide alternative options to families and students.”

“These options shall be aimed at addressing the potential negative impact of early start times on student health, well-being, and academic performance,” according to the draft.

If approved, 25 percent of schools within each district and charter school must offer alternative start time options during the 2024-25 school year.

Each year, an additional 25 percent of schools would be added until all schools comply with the regulation.

The state is also proposing a waiver system for those who face “unique challenges” in changing their start time. A waiver application would be due by Nov. 15 to the State Board of Education for the following school year.

Applications must demonstrate a “compelling need for non-compliance” and include a plan to address the challenges, according to the draft.

The proposal would require each district and charter school with early start times to conduct a survey of individual school communities to gather feedback. They’d also have to submit a yearly report to the state.

The State Board of Education first started talking about potential changes to school start times in late 2022.

The topic has come up at a few meetings and three public workshops were held this spring.

Board member comments

Board member and Eureka County School District Superintendent Tate Else said he’s concerned about unintended consequences.

He said he doesn’t think anyone is opposed to the data and research, but there are so many other factors to consider and work through.

He also said that it’s challenging to get accurate and quality survey data, noting the state needs to be careful about how to do that related to start times.

Board member Mike Walker, an elementary school principal in Dayton and a Carson City School Board trustee. said the regulation will impact elementary schools.

He also expressed concerns about student safety and noted that “transportation is a huge issue” for districts.

Board member Maggie Carlton said she still has concerns and isn’t thoroughly convinced about the change. She also said she was disappointed in the attendance at some of the public workshops.

But Carlton said she’ll support draft regulation language moving forward in order to get people to pay attention to the issue and how to solve the problem for children.

Public comments

The board heard about 30 minutes of in-person and written public comments about proposed regulation language.

Those in opposition included the Clark County School District, Charter School Association of Nevada, and school district superintendents in Carson City and Humboldt County.

The Nevada Psychological Association and two juniors from Silverado High School in Las Vegas expressed support.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on X.

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