Novato school district looks at implementing later start time

Maggie Smith

The Novato Unified School District is considering a later start time for middle and high schools, citing that giving students a chance to get more sleep would benefit student health.

The Later Start Committee, led by Ivan Chaidez, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, began meeting this year and is investigating the benefits of having a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later.

Currently, Novato High School has different start times for different days. These times range from 7:15 to 8:20 a.m.

The idea of implementing a later start time originated from a group of doctors in Marin who presented research to the school board last year, according to Chaidez. He was then asked by Novato Superintendent Jim Hogeboom to facilitate a committee to discuss the issue.

Chaidez said the committee is studying research and data on teen sleep, as well as looking at other school districts that have implemented later start times.

Many other schools in the area have pushed back their start times and Novato is behind the curve in implementing a more teen sleep-friendly schedule, according to Chaidez. The schools and districts that have adjusted their schedules include Justin-Siena, the Palo Alto Unified School District and the Albany Unified School District.

The committee is also discussing potential limitations and problems with implementing a later start time at Novato, Chaidez said.

“Any time the bell schedule changes, we have to negotiate with the teachers,” Chaidez said. “[But] the union will most likely support it if it’s good for students.”

According to Chaidez, the athletic schedule will also have to be re-organized if the board decides to go forward with a later start time. Practices and games will be pushed back, which requires coordinating with leagues and other schools.

Additionally, the committee is investigating the impact of a later start on student transportation to and from school, according to Chaidez.

“Many of our students ride the city bus,” Chaidez said. “If we were to change our start time, would [the buses] change their schedule?”

Novato later start infographic
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The committee hopes to bring a proposal to the teachers’ union in March and another to the school board in May, according to Chaidez. If approved, the later start time would be on track to start next year.

According to Natalie Hays, a student at Novato High school, both students and teachers are in favor of implementing a later start. Many students, she said, are attracted to the idea of being able to get more sleep.

While there is some concern with pushing back the time they get out of school and the effect it would have on athletics, Hays said that she would benefit from a later start.

“I think it would be a good idea, because for me, I’m on a dance team and have dance every day after school and I still have to do a few hours of homework every night, so I go to sleep later,” she said, also mentioning that she has to get up at 5:45 a.m. every morning because she has a first period. “I’m tired every day when I get to school.”

While the committee is in the beginning stages of meeting and hasn’t decided on a new school start time officially, Chaidez says that a consistent start time of 8:30 or 9 a.m. are two possibilities.

Redwood economics teacher Paul Ippolito said he sees the effects of sleep deprivation on students on a daily basis.

“If you teach a class, the energy in first period is different than the energy in fourth period. You can tell as a teacher,” he said.

Even though Ippolito observes the consequences of sleep deprivation, he said implementing a later start time at Redwood poses issues similar to problems the Later Start Committee is studying.

“We have a schedule because adults need to be at work at a certain time, and parents need their kids to be aligned,” Ippolito said. “It’d be really hard to change that given that the work world isn’t super flexible.”

Ippolito referenced some other solutions instead of a later start time, such as longer passing periods or a double block schedule. He believes that these would lower stress and allow for a more flexible schedule, because teachers would have more time to prepare and students wouldn’t have to be in seven classes a day.

“I’m not sure if [starting at] 8:30 really fundamentally changes our day that much. I’m not sure it’s a big enough change to go through all that,” he said.

According to Ippolito, a schedule change is necessary at Redwood, but there’s no easy solution.

“We’ve been trying to change the schedule for a long time,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen while I’m teaching here.”