Parents are urging the School Department not to change start times for Andover's elementary children.
The School Committee is considering changing start times for those young students, having them begin their school day earlier, so older students can start later because of studies that show they need more sleep. Some experts have gone as far as saying teen sleep deprivation is a public health crisis.
Parents packed a forum last Wednesday night to share their opinions with the School Committee.
The current school start times are 7:45 a.m. for middle and high school students and 8:45 a.m. for the elementary grades.
One option, called the "flip," would have elementary students start between 7:30 and 7:45 a.m., while the middle- and high-schoolers would begin their day between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m.
Another option, called the "shift," would start middle- and high-schoolers between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m. The younger students would report to school between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m.
The flip was widely disdained by most of the estimated 200 parents who attended last week's forum in the Andover High School library.
Kristin Kissane, who circulated a petition against making the younger students go to school earlier, said, "This will require our children to go to bed even earlier."
She asked that the parents who regard the earlier start times as "too drastic" to raise their hands. It showed an overwhelming majority.
She emphasized she intended "no disrespect for the work that has been done" by school officials examining the issue.
Several parents expressed a similar sentiment.
"My biggest problem is shifting the problem from one population to a more vulnerable population," said Nicole Wright, an English as a Second Language teacher in Saugus schools and the mother of two Andover elementary students.
Wright, who has taught kindergarten through grade 12, said the School Committee should look at other factors besides sleep deprivation. Today's teenagers, she said, spend too much time on their cell phones and social media.
That is a greater problem than not getting enough sleep, she said.
Peter Chave, a father of three Andover students, said the school day in his native England generally doesn't begin until 9 a.m.
School Committee Chairman Joel Blumstein, who moderated the forum, said the board has not made any decisions on the matter.
"We're still in the mode of listening to people," he said. "All options are still on the table."
School Committee member Shannon Scully said educators are looking into later start times because they want to "try to improve the physical health and academic performance of adolescents."
She cited studies that show teenagers need eight to 10 hours of sleep every night – and they often cannot fall asleep until 11 p.m.
School Committee member Susan McCready, said the Melrose School Committee recently changed start times without holding a public forum. Elementary students in that city had their start time adjusted from 8:15 to 8:03 a.m. while the older students now begin their day at 8:15 instead of 7:45 a.m.
Secondary school students in Weston got an even bigger break, McCready said. Their day now starts at 8:45 instead of 7:30 a.m. The younger children were starting at 8:10 and now show up at school at 8 a.m.
The altered start times have not provoked massive opposition in those communities, she said.