ANDOVER — There was a full house as the School Committee voted 4-0 on Thursday night to push back school start times starting in September.
The committee approved start times of 8:15 a.m. for middle and high school students, and 9 a.m. for elementary schoolers. That moves the middle and high school start times a half hour later and 15 minutes later for elementary school students. Committee member Paul Murphy was not present.
“Throughout the pandemic, we heard from many students, staff and families expressing concerns about student well-being and mental health,” said Chair Susan McCready. “We share in these concerns and today’s vote affirms our extensive efforts that puts the focus on students first in Andover Public School policies and operations.”
There was an overwhelming consensus among parents in the room that middle and high schoolers would benefit from the later start times, while elementary school parents were concerned about transportation and before-school child care.
This decision was the culmination of a multiyear process to assess start times. Two years ago, it was suggested that the elementary and high schools “flip” times so that high schoolers could sleep in, while elementary school students could come to school earlier.
But that was met with “vociferous, voluminous and loud feedback” in opposition to moving the elementary school start time up, said committee member Tracey Spruce.
Committee members said now is the time to make the decision because of mental health issues plaguing high school students because of the pandemic.
Vice Chair Lauren Conoscenti, an elementary school parent herself, said the mental health crisis is substantial and that the committee should continue to reevaluate start times, even after this change takes place.
Parent Kathy Quill said she was “amazed” at the changes in her high schooler this year, who gained 30 extra minutes of sleep when the school start times were pushed back by 30 minutes because of busing issues related to the pandemic.
Elementary school parents — both in the audience and those who answered a survey — were largely opposed to the time change because it would interfere with child care responsibilities.
“The burden is going to fall squarely on elementary school students and working parents,” Nicholas Stellakis said. “Two parents working in a house, if there are two parents, is not the result of a choice, it is reality for us. For you to suggest that is a choice shows an outdated worldview. So what about us? We are going to have to find and pay for before-school child care.”