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High school classes could start later under proposed regulation

Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationK-12 Education
Nevada State Board members Felicia Ortiz, president, left, Tim Hughes, and Maggie Carlton, board meeting in Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 14, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent).

Start times at public high schools are the target of guidelines in a new regulation the State Board of Education is preparing to draft. 

State Board of Education members met Wednesday to discuss creating the regulation that would bring some high school start times closer to recommendations from experts who found that early start times can be disruptive to teens’ natural sleep cycles and lead to issues such as poor mental and physical health, behavioral problems and lower academic grades. To avoid these issues, experts recommend starting high school no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

In Nevada, high school start times can vary across the state and even within school districts. In the Washoe County School District, for example, high school start times range from 7:40 a.m. to 8 a.m. In the Clark County School District, most high schools start at 7 a.m.

This falls in line with a majority of high schools across the country that start before 8:30 a.m. 

Board President Felicia Ortiz said she proposed the idea last year as a way to move the needle on K-12 education in Nevada. 

“It's a no brainer from a science and research perspective,” she said in an interview with The Nevada Independent. “It's just a matter of adults figuring it out.”

Earlier this year, the department conducted workshops in Carson City and Las Vegas with parents, students, teachers and other community members discussing the potential shift and ideas on how to implement the change in start times. Ortiz said some parents and students agreed 7 a.m. is too early. But others expressed concerns about how the challenges could potentially lead to issues with transportation and create schedule conflicts with sports and other after-school activities. 

One suggestion raised during the workshop — to alleviate transportation issues by switching elementary school and high school start times — was also met with concerns about how that would affect the safety and child care needs of younger students. 

At the board meeting, the Nevada Association of School Superintendents raised its own objections to the proposal. 

“We believe that start time should be part of the local control that is determined by the school boards, the districts and their communities,” said Susan Skeema, the association’s executive director. 

Churchill County School District Superintendent Summer Stephens, who also serves on the state board, said she worried about the unintended consequences that a regulation could have. At Churchill County High School, first period starts at 8:20 a.m., but the school also offers a zero period starting at 7:20 a.m. for students who want an earlier option.

“I think by putting some of these things into place, it really starts to tie the hands of a school district who is offering some multitude of pathways and options for students,” Stephens said. 

The board did not settle on a target start time, but member Tim Hughes suggested finding a middle ground between what districts are doing now and what research recommends, allowing flexibility for districts to set later start times.

Board members also discussed leaving rural school districts out of the regulation and only targeting the state’s two large, urban school districts: Clark and Washoe. They also suggested creating waivers that districts could apply for as well as a mechanism to allow districts to gradually ramp up their implementation in waves, rather than shifting their start times all at once. Ortiz also recommended allowing students who wanted to start at an earlier time to move to a school that offered that option. 

Ortiz said the board will work with the state Department of Education on creating the initial draft language for the regulation, which she expects will be ready by the board’s next meeting in July. If the board approves that initial language, it will go to the state’s Legislative Counsel Bureau, which will write more formal language and send it back to the board, which will hold a hearing on the proposed regulation before finalizing it. 


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