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Denair Unified grappling with new start times

California passed a law three years ago that is going to require Denair Unified School District to change when class starts and ends each day starting with the 2022-2023 school year. The ramifications are likely to affect every student and every family in the district, Superintendent Terry Metzger told trustees at their monthly board meeting Thursday night.

Currently, school begins at 8 a.m. for all of Denair’s 1,200 kindergarten through 12th-grade students. The law passed by the California Legislature and signed by the governor in 2019 says districts cannot start before 8 a.m. for middle school students or 8:30 a.m. for high school students. It was based on research regarding sleep deprivation in adolescents and the benefits of a later start time.

“This is going to impact families,” Metzger said. “There will be less time for homework. Sports are going to go later. It’s going to make dinner time and bedtime more challenging. While that may not be our responsibility, that’s a human factor that we are going to have to think about.”

Metzger said that all districts across California are “grappling with the change.” For small districts like Denair, the ripple effect of starting and ending high school 30 minutes later each day will touch everyone.

Transportation is going to be a major concern. Most parents and/or caregivers of Denair students work outside the home and many of their children rely on them for transportation to and from school. That could be complicated with a school schedule change.

The district also has two bus routes that serve about 300 K-12 students. Metzger said the district cannot afford to have early buses for elementary students and later ones for middle and high school students.

In addition, Metzger said that the high school and middle school currently operate on the same schedule, which allows them to share staff.

The current schedule also allows older siblings to accompany younger children to school, something that could be problematic if Denair Elementary Charter Academy retains an 8 a.m. start time while the high school and middle school begin a half-hour later.

Metzger has had multiple discussions with staff and parents about the upcoming change, including a Zoom meeting Jan. 19 and face-to-face meetings in the following weeks. She also surveyed parents and 58 responded, many sharing ideas and expressing concerns about the schedule change.

Metzger said the advantages of moving the start time for all three campuses to 8:30 are: Families could stay on the same schedule; it allows for collaboration and shared staff at DHS and DMS; and the district could continue to provide transportation for all students who need it.

The district is also exploring free before and after school child care options for families.

The scheduling issue is likely to be a discussion item at the board’s March meeting, with trustees expected to approve a final plan in April.