Early mornings for elementary schoolers and extra sleep for older students will be the new norm for the 2021-2022 school year, the White Bear Lake school board decided at an April 16 special meeting. The change was adopted by a 5-2 majority vote.
Superintendent Wayne Kazmierczak stated that this change is critical to the social and emotional well-being of students. The district’s research and consultation with adolescent sleep specialists have shown that early start times are at odds with teenage sleep schedules. Teenage brain chemistry makes teens stay alert later into the night than younger children and waking up early in the morning to get to school forces many of them to work through a state of exhaustion at the expense of their learning ability.
Younger children are able to shift their sleep patterns more easily than teenagers, which accounts for the earlier 7:45 a.m. start time at all elementary schools except Matoska International. Matoska serves the entire breadth of the district, requiring more transportation time than the other schools.
The shift will also allow the district to implement a three-tiered transportation system, cutting seven buses from the school fleet and saving an estimated $600,000.
Board members Margaret Newmaster and Angela Thompson voted against the proposal, saying that the community had not had adequate time to adjust to the proposal and that there were still many unanswered questions.
“A lot of people talked about the lack of equity, and the burden was on marginalized or lower middle-income families who don’t qualify for free lunch, but they sure can’t afford extra day care,” Newmaster said. “And now there will be a long time in the afternoon and their siblings aren’t available.”
Newmaster thought there ought to have been a survey through community services inquiring how many families rely on sibling care. “More than one said the cost of the proposed slot that has to have day care is impacting us far more than the fact we voted for an increased property tax,” she said.
Many families also noted safety concerns for elementary students leaving in the early morning hours of the winter, waiting at bus stops in the dark.
Board member Deb Beloyed said the response she received from families has been split almost evenly between support for and opposition to the change.
“Part of our strategic plan going forward was to look at the research and to adjust our start and stop times based on the research. If I’ve got 50/50, the only thing I can rely on is the data,” she said. She suggested creating a community of parent networks within neighborhoods around bus stops for safety.
“A lot of this can be solved with getting together with different community members in our particular neighborhoods and saying hey, what can we do to help?” she said. “As a school district, we can’t make this perfect for everybody.”
Thompson, while originally excited about the change for high schoolers, said she was concerned that the middle school start time is too late, and that lower-income families will be disproportionately affected by the costs.
“I think this is going to cause more division in our community as it rolls out,” Thompson said. “Not everybody has a neighbor they can talk to. This whole last week has shown us how divided we are as a people. You might live in a neighborhood that you don’t feel comfortable talking to any of your neighbors. Or none of your neighbors are home; they all work. “
Thompson worried that families will have to stretch their budget to make child care work, at the expense of other essentials such as internet, electricity and even food.
“I feel like maybe we need more time and I know we don’t really have time,” Thompson said. “Because if we don’t do this, the budget is going to be affected, and something else is going to suffer because of it. It is another tough decision in a year full of tough decisions.”
Jessica Ellison is the only board member with elementary school children and shared that it is not an ideal choice for her family.
“It’s completely imperfect, but this is the solution out of all the imperfect solutions that will help move our district in a direction that will support our kids and families,” she said. “It is our responsibility as a board to make the best decision with all the evidence possible, which in this case includes families’ lives, kids’ education,