District considers later start times for all schools in future

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Elementary and secondary schools could start at a later hour in the future to allow students to get more sleep, School Committee members said Thursday at their meeting.

One possibility could be starting the high school and middle school at 8 a.m. and elementary schools at 9 a.m.

In previous years, a lack of buses would have made that unworkable, finance director Susan Rothermich said. But she said there are enough buses now to make this work.

Studies from the Sleep Foundation have shown that students who obtained five or more extra hours of sleep each week reported improved academic performance, increased alertness and decreased depression.

Carol Cavanaugh said the concept of later start times for Hopkinton schools was considered even before she was superintendent, and also has been discussed more recently.

But during the pandemic the school community’s focus was elsewhere, and she did not think this was the time to make any immediate changes.

“People are just kind of holding it together on a shoestring,” Cavanaugh said. “Right now I don’t know if anyone has the strength” to add more to their plates.

Committee member Meg Tyler was interested in looking more closely at the issue and said she thought the community was able to multitask even while dealing with pandemic-related issues.

“We can juggle a lot in this district,” she said.

Tyler said she is hearing that students in the hybrid model are “grateful for more sleep” when they are learning from home.

Committee member Nancy Cavanaugh noted that the current start times require some students to wait for the bus in the dark. Changing the start time to 8 a.m. for older students would eliminate that, she said.

The issue would have to be explored further with both the teachers union and the community at large, Dr. Cavanaugh said.

“We need to bring the public in,” she said. “Parents and families need to have some voice” in the discussion.

In other issues, three departments offered their budget requests for FY22.

Building and grounds requested an increase of $318,794, which is 9.2 percent over the current budget. This figure includes COVID-related PPE (personal protective equipment) expenses of $187,000 and reflects the loss of $77,000 in building rentals.

Student services requested an increase of 3.6 percent over last year’s budget, which includes an increase of $383,833 in salaries and $42,019 in expenses.

Technology requested an increase of 13.06 percent over the current budget. This requested increase includes new half-time positions for webmaster and account manager.

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