Latest FAQs

What is happening with Dover-Sherborn school start times?

The Dover School Committee, Sherborn School Committee and Dover Sherborn School Committee unanimously voted last April to approve a modified "flip" of school start times starting 2020/21 school year.  The decision to change the start times - elementary schools to start no earlier than 7:50 and middle and high school to start no earlier than 8:35 - was largely based on the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and associated research/outcomes studies. The AAP formally came out with their statement in 2014 after identifying that particular age group as being in crisis because their sleep needs cannot be met given current school start times. Adolescents’ unique biological sleep cycles cannot be behaviorally adjusted.

Why evaluate and change school start times?

Superintendent Keough heard from parents, educators and students during his 2017 DS “entry” process that there was considerable disappointment that the 2014 DS examination of school start times did not result in a change recommendation to the school committees - so much so, that evaluating school start times became part of the schools’ strategic plan.  The feedback he received was bolstered by the growing and overwhelming scientific evidence that (x) adolescent children have dramatically different biological sleep patterns than the rest of us that is not subject to behavioral manipulation, (y) early school start times for adolescents contribute significantly to a systemic sleep deprivation for teens that many sleep experts have deemed a national public health crisis and (z) such sleep deprivation is contributing materially to severe health and well-being outcomes for adolescent populations.  By way of example only, incidences of anxiety, depression, obesity, suicide ideation and suicide completion and motor vehicle accidents are dramatically higher for sleep-deprived adolescents.

The decision to change start times so that the elementary schools will begin at 7:50 next school year and the middle and high schools will begin at 8:35, is centered on the public health crisis of adolescent sleep deprivation. While increased teen sleep duration, and lessened interference with teen REM cycles, has been found also to positively correlate with improved academic and athletic outcomes for teens, these were not driving factors for the change recommendation.

What are other schools doing?

The approved changes are consistent with many school start time changes made in Massachusetts and nationwide. The Start Time Task Force (STTF) spoke with leaders of multiple districts that have made the “flip” change in the past several years and consistently heard about positive outcomes for students throughout the grade ranges.  For secondary school students, the greatest reported benefits were more alert, relaxed and well-rested students. Elementary school students had overall increased focus during the last hour or so of the school day, and one district measured a 40% reduction in behavioral issues.  Similarly, a number of Metrowest  top independent schools have started grades PK-5 between 7:30 and 8:00 for 10 years and more and report no negative outcomes other than related to poor sleep hygiene practiced at home.  Nationwide, there are numerous districts that number in the tens of thousands of students that have made the “flip” in recent years.  Perhaps most significantly, recent California legislation will require all high schools to begin at 8:30 and middle schools at 8:00 (subject to certain exemptions) by school year 2022.

What is the Start Time Task Force (STTF) ?

Superintendent Keough convened the Start Time Task Force in September, 2018 to assist him in studying school start times for purposes of making a recommendation to the Dover School Committee, Sherborn School Committee, and Dover Sherborn Regional School Committee, collectively referred to as the Joint School Committee  (JSC) relative to school start times.  Following an exploration of sleep research, conversations with experts, and gathering of information from students, staff, and parents, the Start Time Task Force and Superintendent Keough recommended a flip in school start times.

After the JSC unanimously voted in April 2019 to change school start times, the STTF, a.k.a STTF-Phase II, turned its focus to planning for school year implementation of start time changes.  In its planning, the STTF seeks to mitigate as many impacts from the revised start times as is possible and practical before the change takes place in the fall of 2020.

How were Start Time Task Force members selected?

From the beginning, Superintendent Keough selected members to ensure that the Start Time Task Force (STTF) was comprised of individuals with perspectives from each one of our school levels.  

Out of twelve STTF members school year 2018/19, two were central office administrators, five were elementary school reps (two teachers, two school committee members and one building leader) and five were middle or high school reps (two teachers, one student, one building lead and one school committee member).  For the Phase II implementation planning school year 2019/20, because most of the planning complexity revolves around the inner-workings of the schools, the STTF - Phase II  is comprised of central administration members (four) and building leaders (2 from each school level) and four community members, including parents of elementary school students.

What does the Start Time Task Force do?

Over the course of the school year 2018/19  year, the Start Time Task Force (STTF):

  • Conducted an extensive literature review regarding (x) sleep science relative to school-aged students and (y) school start time changes

  • Held extensive discussions with leaders at more than 12 MA school districts regarding start time change activities

  • Surveyed MA superintendents of districts that include middle schools or high schools regarding start time change activity

  • Surveyed DS elementary, middle, and high school families, staff and HS students (over 1,800 participants) and analyzed results, including several hundred comments (2019 Survey Results)

  • Conducted over 2 dozen stakeholder meetings and open coffees, including 6 at elementary schools

  • Curated and updated school start time web page reflecting research and activities

  • Established dedicated email address for comments and questions 

  • Presented community cable channel Q&A

  • Produced and distributed student-created start time video clip

  • Attended 3 sleep expert presentations in other MA districts

  • To date, the Start Time Task Force - Phase II has:

  • Implemented new arrival “target times” for school year 2019/20 to tighten overall travel schedule and incorporate shortened time before bell into student and staff morning routines

  • Streamlined protocol for bus stops to reduce overall route travel time

  • Met with bus driver to educate them on the importance of the start time initiative and the compelling need to adhere to schedules 

  • Initiated discussions with the bus company providing transportation for our Boston students to potentially establish two morning routes from Boston beginning in school year 2020/21

  • Consulted with Director of Park and Recreation on the impacts of a school start time change to their programming

  • Consulted with Director, Community Education, and  DEDA & SHEDA Directors

  • Selected School Advisory Councils to address parent input

  • Set parameters/priorities for secondary school schedules and formulated final options for both the MS and HS

  • Set parameters for before and after school activities at the secondary level.  No before school extra help/clubs will be scheduled before school (subject to limited exceptions) to protect sleep; 3:45 will be the new start time for interscholastic athletics and drama programming, so that students can still attend clubs and extra-help directly after school; currently examining expectations for practice and rehearsals to end by 5:45

  • Held faculty focus groups at every building to discuss impacts of change on teacher lives and possible steps that could be taken to mitigate challenges

  • Held high school student focus groups to discuss impacts of change on student lives and possible steps that could be taken to mitigate challenges

  • Maintained and continuously updated web page and established Twitter feed

  • Updated STTF on local and national start time developments

  • Drafted newsletter and eblast content and press releases

  • Maintained STTF email, responding to questions and/or concerns

  • Discussed possible strategies for  measuring the effectiveness of the change for all students

  • Engaged in 1:1 discussions with 2 internationally-renown sleep experts

  • Attended MASC start-time planning workshop

  • Met as a group or in subgroups extensively

  • Presented in three Joint School Committee Meetings

  • Organized a parent forum with Dr. Czeisler, a world renowned expert in sleep science

Who participated in the 2018-19 start time survey?

The Start Time Task Force (STTF) surveys were sent to parents using the schools’ Aspen email addresses, which contains the “opt in” email addresses of all  DS families.

Survey participation by all cohorts was exceptionally strong and proportionally higher by parents of elementary students. The 670 parent/guardian participants self-identified as follows:  630 elementary school parents/guardians, 314 middle school parents/guardians and 279 high school parents/guardians. Of the 230 staff responding, 104 self-identified working at the elementary school(s) and 134 self-identified working at the middle/high school(s). From the middle and high schools, 538 students participated.

What was the timeline of the Start Time Task Force work?

The Start Time Task Force (STTF) had the benefit of the work performed by the 2014-2015 Dover-Sherborn Start Time Committee and built on their research, surveying, communications and evaluation.  This permitted the STTF to leverage the body of existing work by the prior Committee and “hit the ground running” very efficiently in September, 2018.  In fall 2018, there was robust discussion among STTF members of when to implement a change (if any) that would be approved by the school committees. At that time, there already was a wealth of research and analysis done and the STTF had some general sense of DS community voice. The STTF unanimously agreed that Superintendent Keough should recommend some change to the JSC but did not coalesce around what that change should look like (the quote of a noted sleep expert “to do nothing is to do harm” was reflective of the STTF sentiment).  The STTF then created a work schedule that would permit Superintendent Keough to advance a recommendation to the school committees in April. The STTF deemed it critical for any change to be approved a full school year in advance of implementation to give the community a full school year year to plan for the change.  This 24-month process of STTF formation to change implementation (30 including the prior committee work) is consistent with the Minnesota Sleep Society’s recommended 21-month timeline.   

Superintendent Keough’s formal recommendation of the “flip” option to the school committees was made on April 9, 2019 and approved on April 30, 2019. The April timing was intended to allow time for additional work to be done by the STTF, if required by the school committees prior to a vote, and still permit for a school committee vote at the school committee’s June meeting.  The interval between meetings was intended to give school committee members ample time to reflect on the proposal, hear further from constituents, and examine further the body of work the STTF publicly presented.  


Since the Joint School Committee approval, the STTF has been engaged in planning for the changes that will take effect school year 2020/21.  This year’s working groups are Transportation, Elementary Before and After School Programming, Secondary Schedules, Secondary Before and After School Programming, Staff Implications, and Communications. An  overview of the work-to-date by each working group was presented at the Joint School Committee meeting on October 22nd.

Was the Dover Sherborn community involved in this process?

In addition to discussing the school start time work at multiple school committee meetings throughout the year, the Start Time Task Force (STTF) held numerous public stakeholder meetings and coffees to discuss its work, including the literature review, what other schools are doing, the process, the general options being considered and Q&A. These meetings included: Middle School Students, High School Students, Guidance Advisory Council January 11, High School Advisory Council January 15, Challenge Success Parent Advisory Group February 1, Chickering Staff February 5, High School Staff February 5, Middle School Staff February 6, Pine Hill Staff February 6, Pine Hill CSA February 7, Middle School Advisory Council February 11, POSITIVE February 12, High School PTO February 14, Chickering PTO March 8.  These formal meetings were supplemented by open forum coffees at each school campus.


In addition, a public education forum featuring Dr Czeisler was held followed by Q&A, start time evaluation information was included in school email blasts and central office newsletters, schoolstarttime@doversherborn.org was established to receive comments, this web page and a Twitter feed were created and maintained and STTF members participated in a community cable channel Q&A, conducted surveys of DS parents, staff and middle school and high school students, produced and distributed to students a video clip, conducted countless 1:1 discussions, email and text exchanges with DS community members.

What options did the Start Time Task Force explore?

The number of start time permutations examined by members of the Start Time Task Force (STTF) were numerous, and ultimately, the group focused on four general scenarios (no change, single bus run, flip elementary and secondary school start times, shift elementary and secondary school start times) and then again looked to permutations for each option.  The consideration of general scenarios involved a myriad of interrelated factors that are too detailed to fully summarize in these FAQs, but general reasons for not advancing a competing scenario are set out below. 

The option to do nothing was deemed untenable based on the severity of the present public health crisis precipitated by adolescent sleep deprivation.  Knowing that Superintendent Keough would recommend a full year for planning by DS families, staff and school administration, the STTF could not fail to act for what community planning purposes would already require a delayed implementation.   

The “shift” structure would either be too modest – the APA urges that earliest secondary school start times be 8:30 or later at a bare minimum, and it was important for the STTF to get to this minimum guideline (sadly, even with an 8:30 start time, some of our adolescents still will not have the opportunity to get the sleep they need based on individual biological needs and school/bus schedule) – or shift elementary students too late in the day where afternoon learning could be materially impacted.  

Presently, the same busses and drivers serve the elementary and secondary schools so that after the morning secondary school students are dropped at school, those busses then proceed to the elementary bus pickups. This is a “two-run” structure.  Changing to a “one-run” structure would remove the elementary and secondary school bus coordination so that, if desired, all schools could start at the same time. The “one-run” option initially appeared to be an excellent option, but as details were explored, a number of significant flaws arose.  For example, changing to one run would require roughly double the number of busses and drivers. Putting aside the challenge of funding the $750,000-$1 million estimated annual additional cost, the DS bus company indicated that it would not be able to reliably supply close to the number of additional drivers that would be required.  Moreover, because the “one-run” would substantially reduce driver earnings (by moving from two runs to one run), the bus company likely would lose some long-term existing drivers. We confirmed this resource shortage with other districts that are facing challenges maintaining drivers for their existing runs.

The “flip” structure was ultimately modified by flipping the elementary and secondary start times and then shifting the elementary start time 10 minutes later.

What do experts say about the approved “flip”?

Sleep experts with whom we had conversations (including Drs. Owens, Czeisler and Zhou in addition to other sleep physicians on the record with similar sentiments)  all expressed comfort with the “flip” structure as being in the overall best interest of our students’ health and well-being, (y) despite pre-adolescents needing more sleep than adolescents, adolescent biological sleep patterns are such that the sleep wake times are shifted 2 hours’ later than all other groups, and this cannot be changed through behavioral factors as opposed to pre-adolescents who are biologically programmed to sleep and wake earlier and are susceptible to changing of their sleep patterns through behavioral influences and (z) the ”sleep nadir” at the late phase of nightly sleep is when all sorts of important things occur in the brain; given the adolescent sleep shift, the early wakeup for school infringes upon this period in adolescents, as it generally occurs two hours’ earlier for the rest of us. In general, younger students are “morning larks” as opposed to “night owls”.

What do we know about about the impact of earlier start times for younger students?

There is no longitudinal research suggesting that earlier school start times for elementary students is harmful or helpful to them; in fact, there is scant research on the correlation between elementary school start times and outcomes for children, and no research supporting our current start time as the most ideal for young children.

In the three or so studies, each with their own limitations and flaws, the outcomes are mixed and not dramatic either way. The Start Time Task Force (STTF) separately asked three noted sleep experts about the dearth of studies relating to elementary school start times. The responses were fairly consistent as follows: (x) given the known public health crisis relating to adolescents and sleep deprivation, researchers are focusing resources on researching this issue, and a similar crisis does not exist with respect to elementary students and (y) although we are in the nascent stages of widespread “flipped” schedules, elementary school start times have not been early; however, there have been many instances of long-standing early elementary school start times, and none were aware of material reported adverse consequences.  Anecdotal reports from schools that have flipped their schedule are positive: students are more awake and ready to learn, there are fewer nurse visits in the afternoon, and fewer referrals for discipline. 

Discussions with leaders at area independent schools revealed that there have been long-standing 7:30-8:00 start times for K-5 students without any known adverse impacts based on the start time. In Sherborn, families with two parents who work outside the home have been successfully navigating a 7am start at the Pine Hill Early Morning program for years. Sherborn’s BOKS program begins at 7:35. Dover’s BOKS program begins at 7:45.  Parents opt in to these programs, despite the earlier start times. Our Boston students wake even earlier, and elementary school students at Pine Hill are dropped off between 7:20 and 7:25 for example, with a much earlier wake up time. 

 

>Dr. Eric Zhou (instructor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and attending Psychologist, Boston Children’s Hospital) posits, “For the elementary age group… it may be the case that [school] somewhere around 7:30, 8 o’clock in the morning is far more reasonable and aligned with their circadian rhythm naturally than for high school age children ”(Rath, What Earlier Start Times Mean for Young Brains, WGBH News, February 1, 2018.

Who are the sleep experts you’ve spoken with?

Two of the experts with whom the Start Time Task Force (STTF)  has spoken with/relied upon the most are Dr. Chuck Czeisler, Professor of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Chief, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Director, Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Dr. Judy Owens, Director, Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Editor in Chief, Behavioral Sleep Medicine and Lead Author American Academy of Pediatrics 2014 Policy Statement on School Start Times. 

Both are at the top of their field professionally and have been committed to advancing research in their fields. They have volunteered their time and expertise throughout the process.

I am worried about my child waiting for the bus in the dark. Can we move the elementary school start time later?

While it has been, and continues to be, our hope to push the elementary start time another 10 minutes to 8:00 or later, this goal may be difficult to achieve given the complexity of the bus requirements. The permutation of flipping start times and then shifting each substantially later was also explored (for example, starting elementary schools at 8:35 and the secondary schools at 9:30), and it was determined that given the extensive secondary school student after-school programming (including jobs, homework, extra help, theater, athletics, clubs, faith-based schools/activities) as well as the secondary school staff impacts, this scenario presently would not be a feasible option for passage or implementation but is potentially something to work closer to in future years.

Civil twilight occurs approximately 30 minutes prior to sunrise when the sun is just below the horizon and is the brightest of the twilight phases. From and after civil twilight, there is generally enough light to carry out most outdoor activities, and many school systems schedule their busses to start no earlier than civil twilight.  On the latest-sunrise weekdays in the year (November 1 this year) Civil twilight starts at 6:48 and sunrise is 7:17, respectively 12 minutes before and 17 minutes after the anticipated earliest bus pickup time. Some sources have cited earlier sunrise and civil twilight times, the foregoing times are from timeanddate.com

As with all times of day, however, poor weather can affect daytime visibility.  Considerable efforts have been made, and are continuing, to optimize bus runs. As things presently stand, the very earliest Dover/Sherborn bus pickups next year are projected to be 7:00 and many will begin later than 7:00. 

Anecdotally, most elementary bus stops either are in front of student homes or have one or more parents walking with children and present at the stop. Our high school and middle school students have been waiting independently for years with no problems. Keeping tired teenage drivers off the road in the earlier hours will also help keep our younger ones safe.

I still have questions. Where can I ask them?

Please continue to ask questions and share concerns at the Start Time Task Force (STTF) email address  schoolstarttime@doversherborn.org.

 

These emails are shared with the entire STTF.

 

The Dover Sherborn Public Schools do not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, sex/gender, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or homelessness.

  • Dover-Sherborn Public Schools
  • 157 Farm Street, Dover, MA 02030
  • Phone (508) 785-0036
  • Fax (508) 785-2239
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