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St. Paul considers later start times for middle, high schools

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Taking note of research that suggests that teens perform better in school when they can sleep later, St. Paul Public Schools administrators are mulling later start times for high school and middle school students, the Star Tribune reports.

Specifically, school officials are considering a start time switch from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. beginning in the 2015-16 school year.

The district plans a number of meetings to hear opinions from stakeholders, including teachers, parents and coaches, starting with a meeting Thursday with leaders of the before-and-after-school Discovery Club program.

Here's a two-page outline of the proposal from the district, which lists potential benefits and challenges of later start times.

School districts nationwide have experimented with later start times.

The most recent study on the issue, released in March by the University of Minnesota, was the first of its kind to examine school start time shifts at multiple schools in various U.S. locations.

The analysis found that with later start times, attendance, standardized test scores and academic performance in math, English, science and social studies improved. Also, tardiness, substance abuse, symptoms of depression, and consumption of caffeinated drinks decreased.

The three-year project tracked 9,000 students attending eight high schools in three states.

Roughly 40 percent of U.S. high schools start the school day before day before 8 a.m., according to data from the 2011-2012 school year from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Parents – as well as teachers who encounter sleepy, cranky first-period students – know well that teens often do not get enough sleep.

But switching school schedules can present huge logistical headaches for administrators, U.S. News reports. Districts have to consider that many students work after school, many are involved in athletics and other after-school activities, and some care for younger siblings.

The biggest hurdle for administrators is trying to figure out a transportation schedule, because many districts use the same buses to transport elementary, middle and high school students, U.S. News notes.

Another study, conducted several years ago by a Georgetown University researcher who looked at Minneapolis and St. Paul schools, found that later start times did not have much of an effect on improving test scores.

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