Students attending any of the Dearborn Public Schools high schools that are interested in beginning their classes an hour later will have an opportunity to so for the school year beginning in September 2013—if enough students are interested.
The late-start program, which was the subject of an 18-month study by a special committee of educators and parents, was offered last year, but failed to generate enough interest to make the program worthwhile.
But allegations by parents that too many students were excluded from participation in the program—and a petition signed by parents demanding re-examine the program, led to the program being moved up from the back burner.
Helena Thornton, a parent or a Dearborn High graduate and a student starting at DHS in the fall, has advocated for the program. According to Thonton, during committee discussions about two years ago, few barriers were identified that would preclude such a program from being a success.
“There were no obstacles whatsoever that (district officials) talked about,” she said. Thornton also said the district is underestimating student interest in the program.
According to district figures, only 24 out of 2,094 eligible students expressed interest in starting school later in 2012-13. The program excluded those that were required to make up credits in an after-school program, and many students that could not provide their own transportation.
According to district spokesman David Mustonen, any program implemented by the district could not interfere with established transportation routes, because of additional costs the district could not incur at this time.
“If there’s enough interest next time," he said, "we’ll implement it."
A Second Try
Currently, Dearborn high school students begin class at 7:20 a.m. and are released at 2:15 p.m.; middle school students start at 8 a.m. and leave at 2:55 p.m.; and elementary school students attend class from 8:40 a.m. until 3:35 p.m.
According to a proposal organized by the district, students electing the late start option for the 2013-14 would start school at 8:25 a.m. and leave at 3:20 p.m. The make-up credit and transportation requirement are still in force; students will also have to be in good academic standing, refrain from taking part in athletics that begin prior to 3:20 p.m, and commit to the schedule for the entire year.
The district formed a committee in 2009 that explored the option of shifting high school start times after several parent expressed interest in such a change. The committee recommended essentially switching start times for high school and middle school students; the middle school students would arrive at school earlier than their high school counterparts.
However, in a Jan. 11 email addressed to Thornton, Superintendent Brian Whiston said there was near universal opposition at the elementary- and middle-school levels, and that changing times at those levels would be necessary to maintain its present bus schedule.
But Whiston maintained that if enough high school students are interested in late start, they will run the program.
"lf we are able to run even one class at one high school, we will make the later start time available," he wrote in the letter. "We will continue to offer the option for the 2013-14 school year and should more students and parents select the alternative schedule we will implement the program."
A petition circulated by late start supporters was introduced in December, and as of the end of January, received 108 signatures.
Supporters of the measure cited university research that indicates high school students lose a REM cycle of sleep if they get up for school at the present time. Supporters also said they believed later start times would give better-rested students an opportunity to
Board president Pamela Anderson said at the Jan. 14 meeting board members were trying to make options available to high school students.
“I don’t think anyone disagrees with the research about the high school students needing more rest; we’ve all had teenagers and we know that first hand,” she said. “But there’s 18,000 students and we do understand that by shifting time starts, it would put younger children out on the streets at an earlier time, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
“I’m glad we are able to offer that option,” she said. “If we have a large enough response, we will react to it.”