Local officials push back against Ohio bill proposing 8:30 a.m. school start

A proposed bill that would force Ohio public schools to begin their school day no earlier than 8:30 a.m. has turned attention to school start times and drawn some pushback from local officials.

Last month Ohio Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, introduced the bill days after California’s governor signed a related bill into law.

The Ohio law would apply to district, charter and STEM schools at all grade levels.

Driving the bill are concerns about student safety in the early morning and often dark hours and a desire to address concerns about the effects of lack of student sleep as shown by numerous studies in recent years.

Explore MORE: Ohio lawmaker wants to push back high school start times for all public districts

School boards and districts officials in each of Ohio’s 613 public school systems decide when classes start in the morning for their local schools.

Butler County school districts start their high schools from a range between 7:15 a.m. to 8:05 a.m.

Southern Warren County’s Mason High School made headlines this school year as it moved back the starting time at its middle and high school buildings from 7:15 a.m. to 7:45 a.m., but officials there are not fans of any state mandate coming from the proposed law.

Explore MORE: Mason school officials cite studies as part of reason to push back class starts

“This is a local control issue. We strongly are in favor of school schedules and start times being decided at the local level, not in Columbus,” said Tracey Carson, spokeswoman for Mason Schools. “With 10,500 students, if we were forced to have an 8:30 a.m. start time, that state mandate would cost us approximately $1 million a year because we would need to transition to a two-tier busing system rather than our efficient three-tier system.

“Keeping the three-tier system would have our youngest (pre-school, primary grade) learners getting home after 5:30 p.m. — and having buses compete with evening commute traffic — something that our families and early childhood educators strongly opposed.”

Edgewood school officials were among the first in the area to try accommodating teens and their families with a later starting time, first installed in 2012.

Some studies have contended later start times could eventually translate into better student performance, but Edgewood officials said delaying their high school’s start by 30 minutes led to no notable changes.

“Edgewood was sensitive to this issue several years ago based on requests from parents and students. It was believed that starting school later would benefit high school student performance,” said Pam Pratt, spokeswoman for the Edgewood Schools. “Since that time, we have not seen significant changes in attendance or test scores as a result of starting school later in the morning.”

Lakota Schools Superintendent Matt Miller said that “we can certainly appreciate the research regarding the amount of sleep teenagers need. In fact, the vast majority of our schools already begin after 8 a.m. Being forced to move to a start time of 8:30 would have major implications, including financially,” in the cost of changing busing routes.

Officials at Talawanda Schools have studied altering class starts for years but also found the repercussions on busing to be too costly.

“Talawanda has one fleet of buses that run two morning routes and two afternoon routes to provide transportation to all elementary and secondary students,” said Holli Morrish, spokeswoman for the district.

“To make this (start time) change would require a significant cost and certainly significant additions to the bus fleet. I have no doubt that leaders in Talawanda want to do all of the right things to support student safety and wellness, but a clear way to address the concerns around sleep needs of teens and school start times has not been able to be achieved to this point due to concerns around the financial impacts that a change would require.”

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