UCDSB to look at flipping school start times

BROCKVILLE – To improve learning for intermediate and secondary school students, the Upper Canada District School Board is looking to change its school start times for students.

Trustees approved a motion to support an earlier start time for younger students (Kindergarten to Grade 6) and later start time for older students (Grade 7-12). This is opposite the current board-wide schedule for students at the English-Public school board.

“There is an opportunity to look at what we do for kids,” said Ward 8 trustee David McDonald, who tabled the motion for discussion at the board’s April 12 meeting. “There is an opportunity to have a larger impact across Eastern Ontario.”

McDonald’s initial motion called for the UCDSB to switch the start times for the two student groups no later than the beginning of the 2024-25 school year.

McDonald said that the board adopted a common timetable for secondary students a few years ago, and the plan has been mostly successful.

Timetables at all 21 secondary schools in the board operate on the same five-period clock.

Since this began, the board first piloted and now offers online classes which are shared between different schools. This includes real-time video (synchronous two-way) teaching. It has expanded some of the online courses the board is able to offer, especially in smaller or rural secondary schools.

“But we got it wrong in one spot. We got it wrong with the start time,” McDonald said. “We have an opportunity to fix it now so we can help our kids elementary and secondary be more successful at the UCDSB.”

Ward 6 trustee Lisa Swan said she was concerned changing the start time for secondary school would impact students’ ability to hold part time jobs. She also thought pushing ahead to start in September 2024 was too soon.

“I think we need a consultation, a huge real consultation, not just that we ask a few people,” Swan said. “We need to really, really look at doing this [consultation].”

McDonald softened his approach in speaking to the motion, suggesting that the language be changed not make it a mandate to change the bell times, but instead to begin a conversation with the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario, Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario, and “other stakeholders.”

STEO is the transportation consortium co-owned by the two English-language boards. Between 2019 and 2021, the two boards phased in changes to the start time for its schools. All secondary schools were set with an 8 a.m. start time, while all elementary schools moved to a start time between 9-9:30 a.m.

“I think the conversation we have with our colleagues would certainly benefit and help in the future,” said McDonald. “Let’s take our time to get it right.”

The discussion and motion about switching the start time for secondary students followed a presentation by Drs. David Armstrong, Jennifer Curry, and Alison Inglis on student wellness and its connection to sleep patterns. Specifically, the presentation focused on how a lack of sleep reduces academic achievement, school attendance, physical activity, and overall mental health of students.

Statistics presented were compiled from multiple sources including from Canadian studies, Ontario Ministry of Education statistics, United States-based Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The presentation stated that one-in-three teenagers do not get enough sleep, and that a later start time might help improve student outcomes. According to Ministry of Education statistics, early estimates show a six-fold increase in absenteeism in the 2020-21 school year and that later start times may encourage more attendance and engagement in school.

“There are so many medical and psychological professional organizations requesting this,” Armstrong said of changing start times.

“Sleep is crucial for emotional regulation and learning. The current school start times run counter to what we know about adolescent sleep changes.”

He explained that in absence of a large-scale clinical trial, “we’ve got research on tens-of-thousands of Canadian students, American students, and world wide that suggests that small improvements in academic performance and decrease in sleepiness worldwide on average.”

The board adopted the revised resolution to begin looking at flipping the start times for students with no deadline of when the changes would take place if the two boards and STEO agree.

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