IPS considers later start times for high school students

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Indianapolis high school students could be getting some time to sleep in. District leaders say they are considering delaying high school start times to better align the school day with teenagers' natural sleep cycles and improve their academic performance.

Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) is currently on a two-tiered bell schedule. A plan to move the district to a three-tiered bell schedule is in the works for the 2017-2018 school year. The new schedule would stagger student start times based on grade level, with high school students eventually starting at the latest time.

Groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) recommend middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to allow teens to get enough sleep. The APA says teens who get enough sleep have reduced risk of being overweight, are less likely to get into car accidents and have better grades.

"It’s a grade level that we really worry about - that struggles with student achievement," said Dr. Lewis Ferebee, IPS superintedent. "We believe we need to do everything possible to give them a better experience."

Under the proposed plan, high school students would start school at around 9:25 a.m. and finish their day at 4 p.m. Currently, high schools run from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. each day.

"We looked at other large urban school districts that made the transition," Ferebee said. "They’ve seen positive results. We anticipate realizing those same results here with IPS."

The Metropolitan School District of Lawrence made the move to later start times a few years ago. Lawrence high school students now start at 8:50 a.m. A district spokesperson said their decision to shift start times was based on research that shows younger children are more alert earlier in the day and adolescents need a later start time to ensure enough sleep and readiness to learn.

"Our start times now better parallel the biological clocks of our students," district spokesperson Dana Altemeyer said in an email. "Attendance at the secondary level has also improved with the later start time."

But, some IPS parents are concerned that a 4 p.m. release time would interfere with after-school activities like sports or a part-time job.

"If he gets out at 4:00, he’s not going to want to do the after school," said Latrice Wade, whose son goes to George Washington Community High School. "They're not the type of kids that like to do things late, the earlier the better."

Ferebee said they are keeping these issues in mind as they figure out logistics.

"Some school districts that made this transition have more activities in the morning," Ferebee said. "So, the things that were occurring in the afternoon now occur in the morning. We need to work with local employers to ensure that they are well versed in this transition and continue to give our students opportunities to work to those who want to work."

Shifting high school start time would affect start times for elementary school students in order to meet the district's bus transportation needs. Ferebee said they want to make sure there is adequate after-school care available so elementary school families are not too disrupted by the change.

Changes to the high school start times would not go into effect until the 2018-2019 school year.