Orange school officials fear cost of moving high school start times

By John W. Davis, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, February 16, 2017

Salem Thomas dreads waking up at 5:30 a.m.

"You get to school and you've got to go," said Thomas, who is a 10th grade student at Boone High School in Orlando.

She thinks waking up later could help her be more alert in school.

"You come to school sleepy and ready to go to sleep versus in middle school, you're energized," Thomas explained.

Some school board members like the idea of starting school 20 or 30 minutes later.

They also like the idea of keeping the students later in the afternoon, creating longer days for students across the district.

"The board understands that high school start times should be later. It's a values issues. It's where do you want to spend your money. I think this is an important allocation of money for me personally," shared Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette.

In 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended delaying the start of class for middle and high schoolers to 8:30 a.m. or later.

The recommendation was based on studies by the National Sleep Foundation and other groups that found students were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights. 

The studies say teens' natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m., which means they go to school sleep-deprived the next day.

However, for other board members, everything depends on whether there is an increase in education funding in this year's state budget.

"I don't want to spend more money because I don't think the people in the survey want to spend money on it," said Nancy Robbinson, who represents District 6 on the Orange County School Board.

For Salem's mother, she thinks starting school at 7:15 a.m. is an introduction to adulthood.

“It’s all about adjusting because she’s in 10th grade now. She’s only two years away from graduating and getting out into the real would," said Boone High School Parent Kesha Thomas.

"You can't always determine what your schedule will be when you get a job. You're either going to work it or you won't have job. So it's about growing up and adjusting to whatever is being required of you," Kesha Thomas said.

However, for Salem every minute before school is precious.

"It would do a lot because you'll feel better, more rested," Salem Thomas said.

School board members are not expected to discuss changing start times until the end of the school year.

One of the two proposals would cost the district an additional $5 million every year, because of the added operational busing costs.

That plan would also call for the district buying about $7 million worth of additional buses. That cost would be spread out over time.

Orange County Public Schools has a yearly operational budget of approximately $2.3 billion.