Start School Later Ann Arbor Board of Education Voter Guide Blog

Start School Later is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to healthy, safe, equitable school hours. We started an Ann Arbor chapter to advocate for school start times that follow the endorsement of major medical organizations. We sent out a short questionnaire to the eight candidates for the Ann Arbor Board of Education, and received answers from five. Responses to the four main questions are presented in alphabetical order by candidate last name. 

1. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Sleep Association all identify early school start times as the crucial contributor of adolescent sleep deprivation. Most organizations recommend that all middle and high schools start after 8:30 am. Do you believe school districts should be responsive to these national health organization recommendations? 

Jeff Gaynor - “As a teacher I’ve seen the effects listed below, including listless students 1st hour.” 

Jeremy Glick - “Yes, I believe that we should be responsive to these recommendations, as they indicate benefits for our students, and we must operate with a students-first mentality. We must lay the ground-work for altered start times, and must examine what financial and contractual obligations could need alterations in order to accommodate this change. As such, I feel we should begin investigating a policy on this topic, but not make sudden changes, as other factors would be seriously affected. It is important to mention that there is a late start option for high school students, in which they can miss first hour and add a later, seventh hour. This does provide a good alternative for students who struggle with getting up at the current start times, and I would advocate for continuity of this option during our investigation into a policy changing start times.” 

Deb Mexicotte - “I think school districts should keep abreast of recommendations from reputable professional organizations (such as the AAP, AMA, CDC, etc.) that can impact student achievement and wellbeing, most importantly when scientific opinion coalesces around a direction or findings – which, as it relates to school start times, has more recently been the case.  We should be responsive, but have to weigh a wide range of factors, priorities, impact and stakeholders if we want to affect sustainable change and achieve best results.” 

Harmony Mitchell - “I do believe that our district should be responsive to these recommendations. In the past school districts across the nation have followed the recommendations of the CDC and American Academy of Peds with regards to immunizations, and medications at school and much more. This recommendation should be followed as well especially considering the many areas of impact. ” 

Hunter Van Valkenburgh - “Yes” 

3. What do you see as barrier(s) to later school start times? 

Jeff Gaynor - “Costs for busing. Athletic Schedules. Childcare (after school if older siblings are watching younger ones, et al). After school activities. Inertia.” 

Jeremy Glick - “As I discussed in a previous answer, current financial and contractual obligations may prevent later start times.” 

Deb Mexicotte - “County and Statewide Mandates (instructional time, calendars, etc), Childcare, Employment, District Size and Complexity, Diversity of Family Socio-Economics, Athletics, Busing, Other District Schedules, Societal Norms” 

Harmony Mitchell - “My concerns are mainly transportation related. Are we pushing all start times back as we don’t want elementary kids catching the bus or walking in the dark to school? How will rush hour affect busing? How will afterschool sports, and activities be impacted? These are my question that I’m sure would need to be worked through. Prior to moving to MI the idea that schools started before 8:30 was foreign to me.” 

Hunter Van Valkenburgh - “The primary barriers are making the bus schedules work and an even later end of the day for students involved in afterschool sports.” 

4. Would you support an action committee made up of parents, students and area scientists to identify successful approaches used to change bell schedules in other school systems? 

Jeff Gaynor - “Yes (though I am wary of how the district uses committees.)” 

Jeremy Glick - “Yes” 

Deb Mexicotte - “ Yes – I would support an advisory committee made up of parents, students and area scientists to identify successful approaches used to change bell schedules in other school systems. An “action” committee implies an active outcome, predisposing the committee to make an “active” recommendation. Studying committees need to be open to all outcomes for their work, including recommending a “status quo” position (not that that would be my expectation here, but it needs to be a possibility). 

Harmony Mitchell - “Yes” Hunter Van Valkenburgh - “Yes” 

6. Do you feel the current high school start time in the seven o’clock hour affects the district's ability to be a leader in K-12 education? 

Jeff Gaynor - “Yes. (Ypsilanti is piloting later start times this year.)” 

Jeremy Glick - “As someone who was an AAPS high school student two years ago, I can remember the affect the early start had on my first class or two of the day. I also remember days where it was difficult to stay awake. This is not an ideal for any student, or for a positive educational environment. While I do believe that despite this challenge, we are still a leader in k-12 education, I think that investigating later start times would only make us that much better, and improve the student experience in our district.” 

Deb Mexicotte - “No, and I guess I am not sure why our start time – whatever it might be - would affect our ability to be a leader. We in Ann Arbor see ourselves leading in K-12 education in any number of ways – academically, socially, and politically. We have been the model for many changes and initiatives at the state and county level. This is another way we could lead, if we had something important and helpful to say and thought we could make a difference with those that could help us remove all the barriers – which are numerous and across areas we both control and don’t control. 

We have innovated in the last year in that we adjusted our high school curriculum to make the 7th hour offerings more robust, so that a student could elect to start the school day at 8:30am instead of 7:30am without sacrificing their academic options – and we are assessing if that approach was one that made enough difference to enough students while addressing the often competing needs and priorities of each student and family. We didn’t add busing at 7th hour (which we have never offered to the 1000+ student that typically choose 7th hour classes), which would be the next step to improve later participation. 

Later high school start times would be a great change to make at the State level (especially if it came with some initial stage funding) – then the disruption would be shared and we would be figuring out a lot of the issues together with our communities, employers, legislators and fellow districts. Or if a large majority and diversity of our families wanted us to make this kind of system-wide change and were willing to work through the many issues and disruptions that would occur (which does not currently seem to be the case). But for a single district or even a WISD to make this kind of full system change, more foundational work over time and across the full community be needed.” 

Harmony Mitchell - “Absolutely. I also think there are many other reasons as well.” 

Hunter Van Valkenburgh - “It can’t be proven without an experiment, but given the well-established knowledge about adolescent physiology and sleep needs, it is very likely that early start times are hampering student success in Ann Arbor schools. Our position as a “leader” in K-12 education in MI is as much political as anything else, so I don’t know that starting as early as everyone else does affects that much. On the other hand, if we successfully transitioned to a later start time and saw beneficial results, particularly in closing the achievement gap, that would enhance our reputation as a leading district.” 

For copies of the complete survey and responses, please email 

sperkinz@mac.com