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Denair Unified to revise schedule, expand before and after school programs

Denair Unified School District Superintendent Terry Metzger recommended to trustees Thursday night that school begin 30 minutes later starting in August to comply with a new state law.

Board members took no action Thursday, but are expected to make a final decision at their April meeting.

Currently, school begins at 8 a.m. at Denair’s four campuses. A 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 for them of a later start time.

Metzger told trustees that having different start times on its campuses was not practical for a small district like Denair, primarily for the impact it would have on transportation. Denair has two bus routes. Students at all grade levels ride together. Having any campus start school before 8:30 a.m. would mean high school students would have to arrive early; which goes against the intent of the new law.

Along with revising its schedule, the district is in the process of expanding its before- and after-school academic options. Metzger stressed that the Extended Learning Opportunities Program is not a replacement for child-care services currently available. Rather, she explained, it is an effort to mitigate the ongoing academic issues for students associated with the two-year COVID-19 pandemic. The district expects to receive about $845,000 annually in federal funding for the program.

Possible ELOP services could include tutoring, homework help, reading practice, opportunities for middle and high school students to talk one-on-one with teachers or to work on group projects in the library.

“This is the perfect opportunity to rethink what we’re doing,” Metzger said. “It allows us to get in compliance with the law at 8:30 and offer before- and after-school instruction to assist working parents. We’re being strategic in the kinds of programs we’ll be able to engage students in.”

Parents will have to register their children for ELOP. Metzger said more information will be sent home in the next week explaining the program and asking parents if they are likely to be interested. She expects as many as 500 students could participate. The federal money will cover the full cost of the program, including staffing, she said.

“This is not child care,” said Metzger. “It is intended to be instructional.”