Though survey results presented by the Liberty County School System indicate a majority of respondents favor changing the school times for elementary and upper grades in the coming school year, the Liberty County Board of Education is questioning the move and seeking more input.
Parents and staff will have the chance to weigh in at community forums next week. The first forum is 6 p.m. Monday, March 25, at the BoE office, and the second is 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, at Liberty Elementary School.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer presented the results of online surveys on Tuesday. The staff survey had 639 respondents, with 69 percent voting in favor of the change and 31 percent against. The community survey had 1,325 respondents, with 80.2 percent voting in favor and 19 percent opposed.
“When I looked at the survey online, I thought it was kind-of one-sided,” board Chairwoman Lily Baker said. “There weren’t the pros and the cons, so it didn’t go both ways so the parents could know all the facts there.”
The topic was first publicly addressed at the board’s Feb. 26 work session, where the board asked high-school principals Paula Scott and Scott Carrier to seek public input that may guide a decision.
Their request was to shift the middle- and high-school times from 8:20 a.m.-3:10 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.-2:15 p.m. Under the plan, elementary schools would begin almost an hour later than their current times.
On Tuesday, board member Carol Guyett asked for more information about the request. She was not present during the Feb. 26 meeting.
“I had sent you an email asking for the educational research that showed that high-school students perform better in the morning because if I remember, when we went down this road 10 or 15 years ago, the research showed adamantly that high-school students did not perform well early in the morning and that elementary-school students, it didn’t affect them as much,” she said.
Guyett said teachers have told her that elementary students are more receptive in morning hours and less attentive after lunch, whereas community members told her high-school students are “about half-awake” in the first block.
She said she had two primary concerns; first, that there is no education research to back the move, and second, that beginning earlier could lead to increased tardies, absenteeism and lower test scores.
Guyett said she called about 15 school systems in Coastal Georgia and nearby areas and most of them do not start their high schools earlier than their elementary schools. The Courier was not able to confirm this figure.
However, online queries indicate the debate over school start times has received much attention in the past.
The 2011 Psychology Today article “Sleepless in America” by John Cline, Ph.D., asserts that later start times help students. He cites research from multiple cities that shows increased functioning for both urban and suburban students when school days begin later.
The National Sleep Foundation — which advocates for “sleep-friendly schools” — cites a study by Dr. Kayla Wahlstrom at the University of Minnesota that claims shifting start times resulted in “improvement in attendance and enrollment rates, increased daytime alertness and decreased student-reported depression.”
Still, Carrier and Scott said the move would reduce absenteeism at the tail end of the school day, when athletics teams and clubs often require their participants to leave class early in order to travel to events outside the county.
In making their case, they also said the earlier dismissal time would give students greater opportunities to work after school and more time for homework.