School Committee OKs Creation of Later Starting Time Task Force

Photo: Freshmen Ella Serrano-Wu and Kate Devitt before the Belmont School Committee.

The Belmont School District is pushing forward with plans that could lead to a later starting time for Belmont High School students.

Last week, the Belmont School Committee heard Belmont Superintendent John Phelan layout a blueprint for forming a task force to review a proposal presented by a local chapter of a national group advocating starting the beginning of the school day for teens at a later hour.

“A realistic timeline would be to form a team by June with a game plan and allow it to work through the fall with a hope of presenting its findings to this body in late Fall,” said Phelan.

“I think there are parts of [the task force] that can move quickly such as an executive summary of the literature and best practices from comparable districts and identify the local ‘variables’ that could affect the proposal including the future grade alignment of the high school,” said Phelan.

Delaying the beginning of the school day is being prompted by Belmont Start School Later, which argues that high school students’ physical and mental health are impacted by the lack of deep sleep the majority receive, due in part to the early start time.

“If students only have sleep buttons that we could press so they would go to bed early would be perfect. But unfortunately, they don’t,” said School Committee member Andrea Prestwich, who started SSL in Belmont a few years ago.

In Belmont, the high school day begins at 7:35 a.m.

School committee members expressed support for the superintendent’s way forward.

“There are lessons learned from other communities that the task force can look at and sees what works for Belmont,” said Committee member Susan Burgess-Cox.

While there was uniform approval on the board to move forward, opposition to the time change was present at the meeting in the guise of two freshmen who brought a cardboard display board to explain their position. 

Freshmen Ella Serrano-Wu and Kate Devitt who started Belmont Same Start Time in January called the time change a “band-aid” approach to the issue of students being overburdened with homework and studying for highly challenging classes such as AP-level courses.

“We just don’t think the other side of the issue was being heard,” said Serrano-Wu, who hopes that either she or Devitt will be asked to participate some way in the task force.

While Prestwich said, the two ninth-graders raised “some very valid concerns that were raised in other districts” she reiterated that “[s]tarting school early has a huge number of advantages” that can not be ignored.

According to Phelan, the task force will “look into this with a very open mind and listening to all voices, especially to students, is the way forward.”