Anchorage School District parents will have one more opportunity Tuesday to weigh in on proposed changes to students' start times.

Eleven months of long days involving extensive research, open houses, phone polls, sample groups and meetings is finally coming to an end for the district and Shannon Bingham. His firm, Western Demographics, is examining all the data to present the best possible plan for the district.

"No matter what we present, there are going to be people who don't agree with it," Bingham said.

Ever since ASD started holding open houses on start times this spring, Bingham has spent long days and nights speaking to parents and students. He said his message has been fairly consistent, "like an REO Speedwagon concert."

"I tell everybody the same thing, just in a different place," Bingham said. "We've looked at everything from bus times, bus routes, sporting events, after school activities, high school employment -- you name it, we've looked at it."

A little over a year ago, an Anchorage high-school student started an online petition seeking a change in start times and received over 5,000 signatures.   

"This topic has come up over the last 10 years," said ASD Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop. "It's been brought up by school board members, parents and students. Certainly, the research supports high school students being more nocturnal and their circadian rhythm being messed up by having to wake up so early. It is due time that we take a look at this if we are serious about it."

Western Demographics has been assessing potential changes to ASD start times, which could allow high-school students to gain a few more winks of sleep. 

Currently, high-school students start classes at 7:30 a.m. with classes ending at 2 p.m. Middle-schoolers start at 8:15 a.m. and ends at 2:45 p.m., followed by elementary students starting classes at 9 a.m. and ending at 3:30 p.m.

Bingham's research, which is backed by ASD, suggests pushing high-school classes half an hour later from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Elementary students would start 15 minutes earlier, running from 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., with the middle-school day delayed 75 minutes and running from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"The reason it's like this is we don't want elementary students on the streets in the dark," Bingham said. "That's a big percentage of our kids. In the district's I've worked with in changing school start times, the payoffs have been substantial."

Some middle-school parents feel allowing high-schoolers to start classes later will only enable them to stay up later and waste more time, but students at the Gruening Middle School open house last week argued against those thoughts.

"I'm not sure where this stereotype of high-schoolers is coming from," said an Eagle River High School senior. "A lot of us work, (and) have multiple activities after school plus homework; some may stay up, but don't lump all of us in that category."

Some parents also feel high-school students should be required to get up early in order to be ready when joining the workforce. Student responses noted that high-schoolers are focused on learning and entering college rather than working.

Bingham says his research shows that when given the opportunity, high-schoolers would go to sleep at the same time at night but would also sleep in. The biggest change in the process would be for middle-schoolers.

"Yes, some are in after-school activities but not as many as high school," Bingham said. Yes, it would be a change but in the districts who have adopted this, it has worked out. Anchorage is such a rare place. The landscape affects the bus routes. The length of sunlight also plays a factor in safety."

The final open house is set for from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at South High School. The school board is expected to vote on new school start times at a school board meeting in early October. 

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