More Barrington parents oppose a change in school start times than favor it right now, according to an online survey commissioned by the School Committee.
But the margin is small -- 44 to 39 percent -- and approximately 17 percent of all parents have no opinion. The survey was filled out by 860 parents; the total number of parents, teachers, and students who took the survey was 1,245.
Given this conclusion, the School Committee has decided that there is enough support to continue the discussion of changing the school start times to try to get more sleep for teens.
Those results were made public at a workshop in the Barrington High School library. Dr. Megan Douglas, who designed the survey as a member of the Health and Wellness Committee of the school board, gave a presentation on the results.
School Committee member Robert Shea, who heads the Health and Wellness Committee, introduced Douglas and said the results indicate “we need to keep the conversation going.”
“They were about what we expected,” said Shea of the results. “So, now we need to move beyond the Health and Wellness Committee.”
Parents of elementary pupils were the most strongly against changing the school start time – approximately 44 to 28 percent but with 28 percent having no opinion.
Middle school and high school parents have the strongest opinions right now – 48 percent against and 44 percent in favor with only about 8 percent having no opinion.
Hampden Meadows School parents favor changing the school start time by a 46 to 38 percent margin with 18 percent having no opinion.
Parents also said that the most important factors in making a decision are the educational impact on students and their health and well-being. Most of their concerns are about extracurricular activities, child care, homework and transportation.
Among the other conclusions was that to alleviate concerns of parents, there needs to be a wider discussion of actual schedule options and general information on research into the benefits of more sleep to teens and the experiences of other districts that changed school start times.
Logistical issues got a significant amount of attention at the workshop as well. Two representatives from the First Student bus company, which operates 9 school busses in Barrington right now, answered questions and offered 7 options for transportation if the school start time changes.
All of the options would require an increase in busses, ranging from 11 to 19. The cost to Barrington for each bus is $52,000 a year, said Superintendent Robert McIntyre.
The representatives -- regional manager Bill Roach and local manager Francisco Montero -- were asked to do a separate study that shows exactly how much time would be needed to transport students on the routes to the schools.
They were told to tell Barrington what start times for Hampden Meadows and the middle and high school would be workable with the elementary start times staying approximately the same. That information is expected to be made available within 30 days.
School Committee member Chris Ramsden said “I am still looking for more data on the academic impact” of changing the start time to later in the morning for teens. “I don’t think it’s there.”
“The fundamental issue remains the same,” said School Committee Chairman Patrick Guida. “Is it a good idea? Our focus needs to be in the best interests of kids.”
Indeed, the benefit of changing the school start times is predicated on teens getting more sleep, which the science of sleep indicates should improve academic and athletic performance. That is the issue that is driving the push for changing the school start times at the middle and high schools, which would then ripples through all the schools.