By Kristin Schultz
An advisory committee to the Niskayuna Central School District’s Board of Education will form a subcommittee to explore delaying the start time for high school students.
Over the summer, an online petition started circulating asking that the school board prioritize research and discussion of the issue. The petition cites recent studies from the pediatric Journal of the American Medical Association and the University of Minnesota saying that later start times are healthier for adolescents.
“This is an important issue which impacts the health and wellbeing of all of our students,” the petition reads.
Currently, classes at the high school begin at 7:40 a.m. According to studies from the American Medical Association, adolescents should start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
The district promises to look at the issue in a “comprehensive way,” consider the science, evaluate how it applies to the district and understand the obstacles to shifting the start time.
Former school board member Patricia Lanotte launched the petition and is encouraged that a subcommittee will take up the issue.
“To me, the evidence and data are all there for trying as best we can, with all the complexity, to move to later start times at the high school,” Lanotte said. “We can be in the lead, rather than in a position where we have to follow.”
Changing the start time would be a complex process and would involve different departments from across the district, including transportation and athletics. There could be financial impacts and child care issues as well.
Despite the complexities, other local districts have made the move. Schenectady and Glens Falls schools both moved their start times closer to 8:30.
According to Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. and Lanotte, there are years of work ahead of the to-be-formed subcommittee before any action is expected to be taken.
“It could take a year or two [to see] how you can move the needle,” Lanotte said.
The group that will be tasked with seeing if the needle on start times can be moved has not been formed yet. It will be a sub-committee of IPAC — an advisory committee whose members are charged with setting vision for programs and partnerships in the district.
The influential committee includes Superintendent Tangorra, Assistant Superintendent Lauren Gemmill and Public Information Officer Matt Leon along with six staff members, 16 community members and one student.
“Early in the school year, we’ll be putting out information on how to become involved with IPAC, including the subcommittees,” said spokesman Matt Leon.
Lanotte is pleased there will be a subcommittee to take up the start-time issue and hopes that if its research comes back favorably, the change can be made within a few years.
“You want to give students the best opportunity to succeed,” Lanotte said. “We’re talking about the whole student and helping to start the day as healthy as possible. I trust Dr. Tangorra. Let’s get it done.”