Parents and Students Are Tired of Being Tired – Earlier School Start Times for Bartle and Irving Schools Keeps Many Awake at Night with Worry

Monday night Feb. 26, 7 p.m. (Highland Park Middle School Cafeteria,330 Wayne Street), the Highland Park School Board will hear exhaustive accounts about exhaustion.

Bartle Elementary students in particular are exhausted from the very early school opening time that was implemented in September 2023. Their parents are exhausted from waging a long and thus far futile battle against the early opening.

And now Highland Park High School students – who are not exhausted thanks to the 9:02 a.m. high school opening – intend to wage a tireless battle to support their younger siblings and friends by persuading the district to give every student a later school opening. Prior to Monday’s school board meeting, the high schoolers are handing out “We Are Tired” stickers (reportedly designed by a HPHS 2023 graduate who now is an art student in college).

Sleepless in Highland Park battle began two years ago when the district was trying to be responsive to research indicating that later school start times have a significant positive impact on student health and academic outcomes.  The Highland Park School District at that point did a good thing and decided to have the high school start time moved from 8:45 a.m. to 9:02 a.m. But that action turned out to be a bad thing.  The late opening at the high school meant an earlier opening for Irving and Bartle students. To save money and make it more convenient for the district to solve some logistical challenges that would have occurred if all start times for all the schools were later, HPSD sacrificed the health and well-being of Bartle and Irving School students. Their start time of 7:45 a.m. is earlier than it had been in prior years, which was 8 a.m., also considered too early by many parents.

The largest objection is to the exceptionally early start time is for Bartle Elementary students, who being older than Irving students, often have evening activities and homework. The result is indicators of poor academic performance and significant tardy rates since the early start time was instituted.

When the school district proposed the later start time for the high school, it ran the concept by the Highland Park Board of Health (HPBOH). However, the HPBOH was not made aware of the full proposal that included earlier starting times for the younger grades. When the HPBOH’s support was publicly shared, it was misrepresented that they supported all of the changes, when in fact the health board did not endorse the full proposal including early start times for most grades.

In addition, the school board promised reassessment of the early opening decision after one year, if data showed an increase in tardiness and decrease in performance, as well as if survey results indicated dissatisfaction with the early opening.  That reconsideration has not occurred and seems unlikely to occur.

Keeping parents up at night also has been the poor quality and inaccessibility of the survey. Recently, a new survey was released, and according to the parents, particularly the Bartle parents, the survey was extremely problematic and inaccessible for a variety of reasons, including the very flawed distribution process and the poor questions with limited space for responses.

In response to community complaints about the inaccessibility of this survey, the school administration sent the survey out -again – over email. Accompanying the survey was a note that said, “While we are not altering the school start and end times, we are seeking to implement strategies that will support students and families in adapting to the existing schedule more effectively.” This suggests that no changes to start times will be considered, which discourages meaningful responses. And, as noted above, such a statement negates a previous commitment from the BOE and administration, claiming that the start times would be reconsidered after: one year; an increase in tardiness; and survey results were collected.

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