Teen dreams come true: Cherry Creek board unanimously approves later high school start times for next year


AURORA | Teenagers of Cherry Creek Schools rejoice and sleep in some next year.

Members of the Cherry Creek Schools board voted unanimously Monday night to delay the start of the school day for high schools, meaning that elementary school students will now have to start their school day earlier.

The controversial change is based on numerous studies showing that teenagers perform better academically when they sleep later, coordinating with their natural biological clocks.

“I think that the sleep research is very clear,” Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Harry Bull said in a statement posted to the district’s website. “Adolescents stay up later. Subsequently, the longer they can sleep in the morning, the closer they are to the recommended amount of sleep for adolescents.”

While many parents lauded the change, others have staunchly opposed it, creating an online petition to reverse it.

According to a petition started by CCSD parents, while the later start times for the 2017-18 school year might help high school and middle school students, the reshuffle could have a negative impact on elementary school students.

“I think they should leave things the way they are because if it does change then a lot of people will be negatively affected by it,” Jennifer Candina, who has a child that attends Polton Community Elementary School, said in an earlier story about the changes. “Why try and fix something that isn’t broken?”

Elementary school students now start school at 9 a.m. and finish at 3:30 p.m., but beginning next year they will start at 8 a.m. and finish at 2:45 p.m. Start times for middle schools currently range from 7:50 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. and will be moved to 8:50 a.m. across the board. High school students in CCSD will see the biggest time change, going from the current 7:10 a.m. start time to a new start time of 8:20 a.m.

One concern highlighted in the petition is transportation safety. For elementary school students who take the bus to school, they may be waiting in the dark during certain times of the year. Another concern for parents is how this time change will affect academic performance.

According to research from the National Sleep Foundation, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, students’ sleep patterns change as they enter puberty. This change makes them less likely to get the amount of sleep they need, which can result in poor academic performance.

However, restructuring school start times “may simply be shifting the problem from adolescents to younger children, instead of eliminating it altogether,” according to a 2014 study from the University of Kentucky that examined how starting school earlier for elementary school students affected their academic performance.

But district officials point to local research saying the change has wide support. More than 25,000 students, staff members and parents responded to a survey about the time changes sent out last year. About 73 percent said the issue was “very important” or “relatively important” to them and about 13,200 of those who responded favored a later high school start time. Nearly 18,000 said they were OK with changing the current order of school start times.

Board member Janice McDonald said the change would require some families to tweak their routines, but she said that likely won’t be too difficult.

“Things do change, and the routines change,” she said in the statement. “Even now, my routine will change as a grandparent. But we always manage to make it work. As the change takes place, I believe it is for the greater good of our students. We will do things that are necessary to make the changes.”