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Bell for high-schoolers stays at 7 a.m., board decides

High school students won’t need to reset their alarm clocks in the fall after the Clark County School Board voted Thursday to leave unchanged the 7 a.m. high school start time.

A preliminary report by a panel composed of district officials, parents, faculty and principals recommended no change to school start times and said that the current system for transporting students is more efficient than any other option the panel devised.

The School Board unanimously voted not to change start times but requested the committee come up with additional busing and funding options to consider for the 2008-09 school year.

Kyle Martin, vice president of TransPar Group, a consultant hired by the district, said any change to current start times probably would leave some parents dissatisfied.

“We’re going to deliver children in the dark, or we’re going to pick them up in the dark,” he said.

Martin said bus school schedules are “being done almost as efficiently as it can right now.”

Changes are restricted by several factors, including the large number of elementary school students and students with special needs, the report said.

Students with special needs make up 9 percent of students in the Clark County School District, while accounting for 40 percent of the miles traveled by school buses and half of the total cost of busing, Martin said.

Under the current schedule, high school students start classes at 7 a.m.; middle school students begin at 8 a.m.; and elementary students at 9 a.m.

The study presented four options to School Board members but each posed its own set of problems:

• Moving all start times 15 minutes later. That would give students more sleep time, but elementary school students would get out of school too late, according to the report.

• Having middle school students start at 7 a.m., elementary students at 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., and high school students at 9:15 a.m. The study concluded releasing high school students at 3:40 p.m. would be too late for after-school activities.

• Requiring middle school students start at 7:30 a.m., elementary students at 8:30 a.m. and high school students at 9:30 a.m. The study found that schedule would also release high school students too late. The 7:30 a.m. start time was deemed too early for middle school students.

• Having elementary school students start at 7:30 a.m., high school students start at 8:30 a.m. and middle school students start at 9:30 a.m. That schedule raised concerns that some elementary students would have to wait at bus stops as early as 6:30 a.m.

Each of the options would have required additional bus drivers during the bus driver shortage, and coordinating special-needs students would be very difficult, Martin said.

School Board members said they wanted the committee to look at more efficient options to transport special-needs students, including using smaller buses. They wanted the committee to ask state legislators for funding for special-needs busing.

In April 2006, school district officials said changing high school start times without changing elementary and middle school start times would cost an estimated $77 million. The School Board voted against the measure 6-0.

The district received more than 120,000 survey responses from parents, staff and students about school start times.

About 83 percent of the respondents said they were content with the current middle and elementary school start times. Roughly 55 percent of them said they were happy with start times at high schools.

Trustee Terri Janison, who was on the 19-member committee, said she was frustrated that the panel couldn’t come up with a low-cost proposal that would allow later high school start times.

“This is probably one of the most interesting yet frustrating committees I’ve ever been on … because everybody wanted to come up with the answer,” she said.

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