Watertown Public Schools officials will investigate starting the day for the high school and middle school later each day in the fall of 2017, however a change could be coming for middle schoolers in the fall of 2016.
The School Committee’s Policy Subcommittee took up the issue Thursday morning and gave their OK for Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald to look at moving the school day later.
The move has been looked at because research has shown that teenagers’ body clock has them staying up later and they need more than eight hours sleep. The current start time for high school (7:55 a.m.) and middle school (7:40 a.m.) are earlier than the research recommends.
A survey of Watertown parents found them more supportive moving school start time back 15 minutes than 30 minutes, or more, to get to the 8:30 a.m. start time school officials are looking at.
The change would also mean moving the start of elementary school earlier – likely 8 a.m. – and could mean more busing costs.
“I am not sure if it is really worth changing it all for a small change,” Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald said. “Research shows it should be 8:30 a.m.”
The move is one being looked at by all members of the Middlesex League, the sports conference to which Watertown is a member. Fitzgerald said all superintendents of schools in the league have committed to looking at starting school later. Only one district, Melrose, will be changing for the fall of 2016, she added.
A reason for waiting until 2017 is to let students have time to prepare for the change, said School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer.
“People have already made child care plans, and the Children’s Theatre and youth athletics have already planned for us to end at a certain time,” Hsu-Balzer said.
Before a change is made, however, the subcommittee suggested having another survey of parents.
School Committee member Guido Guidotti said, however, that he would lean toward what the research says.
“We should really do what the medical evidence says is best for children rather than what is most convenient for parents,” Guidotti said.
While the big change is being contemplated for 2017, parent and director of Live Well Watertown, Stephanie Venizelos, said she thinks the change for the middle school to 8:30 would be a big change. Also, those going from middle to high school in the fall of 2017 would have nearly an hour difference.
The subcommittee members suggested moving the start of the day at the middle school to 8 a.m. in 2016-17 to make the change more gradual. Fitzgerald said she would look at the cost for making that change and report back to the School Committee.