Manatee officials: Earlier high school start fixes scheduling problem

BRADENTON -- An earlier start to the school day may be on the horizon for Manatee County high school students, but Manatee County School Board members say they aren't convinced yet.

During a workshop Tuesday, board members heard from Manatee County School District officials as to why high school classes should start at 7:30 a.m. next year instead of 7:45 a.m.

"We tried to come up with the least impactful decision to achieve the goal at hand," said Cynthia Saunders, executive director of secondary schools.

Half the district's six traditional high schools want to transition to a straight seven-period day next year or a blended seven-period and

block schedule day. The rest of the high schools want to stick with block scheduling.

Schools will need 15 more minutes for students to pass from class to class with the change, officials say.

Palmetto High School, the driving force behind the change, is the only high school wanting to implement a straight seven-period day next year. Bayshore and Southeast high schools are considering a blended seven-period day and block scheduling, which needs the 15 minutes.

Braden River, Manatee and Lakewood Ranch high schools would also stay on block scheduling and won't necessarily need the additional 15 minutes.

Concerns were raised at a previous board meeting about research indicating high school students should not start school before 8:30 a.m. or 9 a.m. Research suggests students need more sleep to function better academically.

Saunders told the board they are aware of the research but the solution wasn't that easy. Most high school students are already on campus by 7:30 a.m., Saunders said, so 15 extra minutes doesn't make much of a difference.

"I'm aware of the studies that they're talking about. I thought that'd be a pretty big task," Saunders said "We certainly can go down that avenue this next year. I would hope that doesn't alter a decision for the ability for the three schools that are trying to move on this decision for this upcoming year."

The board took no action Tuesday. Most board members voiced support for talking about later high school start times soon.

In other business, the board approved two new positions and heard a legal update to a lawsuit concerning recess.

The district approved creating camera monitor and allocation technician positions.

The camera monitor will cost the district $31,000 and be charged with monitoring feeds for district school sites. The monitor will report any suspicious activity to district officials and law enforcement.

The allocation technician in the Human Resources Department will work with a specialist to make sure the district does not misallocate any positions and keep the district head count within budget and assigned properly for state reporting. The position will cost approximately $42,000.

The district has filed a motion to dismiss an amended lawsuit filed in late April by Kate Smith, who claims the district is not providing enough time for recess at the elementary level. Smith spoke to the board Tuesday night.

"I am simply asking for you to do your job," she said.

Staff attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum confirmed the district filed the motion to dismiss.

"The district seeks to resolve matters at the earliest opportunity afford by law," Teitelbaum said.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.