FARMINGTON - School start times across the Farmington School District was discussed at the Farmington School Board meeting Monday, April 15.

School principals sat and talked with board members about possible start times for the five elementary and two middle schools.

"We want to be very clear that we have not established what anything will look like ... but what we want to do is attempt to go into this with as much cost-neutral proposals as possible," said Chris Bussmann, principal at Dodge Middle School.

If the principals had permission to establish any start time, the elementary buildings would be uniform, but the district does not have enough schools buses to pull that off, Bussmann said.

Elementary start times

Currently, North Trail Elementary and Riverview Elementary begin the school day at 8:30 a.m. and run until 3 p.m. Farmington Elementary and Meadowview Elementary are 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Akin Road Elementary runs from 9:10 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.

Two possible options for the future were discussed. Three elementary buildings in Group A would start earlier at 7:40 a.m. and go until 2:10 p.m. Two elementary schools in Group B would run from 8:10 a.m. and run until 2:40 p.m.

Kim Bollesen, principal at Farmington Elementary, said research shows younger children wake up earlier and are ready to begin their day, and how it is important for middle school children to get their sleep.

"We know change is hard and we have to figure out if it is harder for the adults or harder for the kids," Bollesen said. "We want to look at what is best for our students in our buildings."

If an earlier school start time was implemented, elementary-aged students would have more time with family and could have more free time to play outside, as well as pursue extra-curricular activities.

"Earlier release time would allow children to be home with their families," Bollesen said.

Current middle school times

Principals discussed with the School Board the benefits of changing the school start times at Dodge and Boeckman middle schools. Currently, the two middle schools run from 7:35 a.m. until 2:25 p.m.

"Before we even began considering transportation routes, we started to talk about what we know," Bussmann said.

Middle school students could get more sleep if start times were moved to a later time. Some students of this age do not go to bed until 10:45 p.m. or even as late as midnight, said Bussmann.

A Minnesota Sleep Study reports 8:30 a.m. is an ideal school start time for middle school students.

"If you back that time by eight hours, you can see the flexibility you might get back with each individual student and you would get that recommended amount of sleep," Bussmann said.

If the start times were moved, both middle schools would be open at 8:40 a.m. and run until 3:30 p.m. These possible school start times are approximate.

"What we needed to do as an administrative group is to talk about the student experience and this is something that we really do support and we want to bring it forward in a more organized fashion to our community," Bussmann said.

Rough timeline

The School Board was given a rough timeline to engage with staff and the community about school start times.

This spring, administrators will gather input from parents and teachers - a critical part in the process during the next six months. Schools will set up multiple listening sessions this fall. Then it will be brought back to the School Board for final recommendation and approval by winter 2019.

Farmington School Board member Melissa Sauser shared how she heard some parents were concerned about early bus stop times in regards to safety and weather with the cold climate.

Bollesen said if the school start times are moved up at the elementary, perhaps some children will not be at home alone when the bus arrives in the morning and a parent could wait with them at the end of the driveway or bus stop.

"Often times we know we are held to a certain structure because of outside variables, but school bus transportation is key in the school start time discussion," Bussmann said. "We transport 7,000 students and we want to find the most cost effective way that limits the amount of rider time and supports that learning model."