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Wayzata School District Approves Later Start Times

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Wayzata School District has joined a growing nationwide trend of moving back high school start times.

The Wayzata School Board voted Monday night to change the high school's current start time of 7:30 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. The change will go into effect next fall.

The proposal came despite sharp criticism from parents of elementary students.

Under the adopted plan, many elementary school students who currently start at 9:10 a.m. will start their day at either at 8:30 a.m. or 7:45 a.m.

But experts say the evidence that high schoolers benefit from a later start is stronger now than it ever has been.

Experts say that during puberty, teens' sleep patterns change, making their natural bedtime later and later.

And the sleep cycles of teenagers today are being pushed back even further, due to use of computers, phones and other electronics at night.

"Their internal clock has shifted so they are watching television or playing video games that further delays it, so it makes even worse," said Dr. Imran Khawaja, the director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at Hennepin County Medical Center.

Like Wayzata, St. Paul Public Schools has been studying pushing back school start times, but St. Paul decided last fall not to make the change -- with one exception.

St. Paul officials say the district does not have enough schools buses for all students to start later.

And, like Wayzata, St. Paul's elementary parents protested swapping their later start times to benefit high schoolers.

So, St. Paul decided to experiment with moving the start time of just one of its seven high schools.

This fall, St Paul's Johnson High School moved its start time back from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

Johnson students were given free Metro Transit bus passes to get to school.

Now four months into the school year, the experiment appears to be a success.

"We have been hearing from students that they are feeling less sleepy and that they are more alert in their early classes," said Jackie Statum Allen, the assistant director of St. Paul Public Schools.

Her teachers report a difference, too, and more kids are participating in extracurricular activities.

"Things are going very well at Johnson High, and we would love to expand that to other schools," Statum Allen said.

But St. Paul says that for now there are not enough Metro Transit buses to expand the experiment beyond Johnson and that they can't use school buses because there would not be enough buses to get elementary students to school.

The change to a later start time at Johnson is also being studied by researchers from the University of Minnesota.

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