A bill awaiting the governor’s signature would ban school start times before 8:30 a.m. for high schools and 8 a.m. for middle schools, starting in the 2026-27 school year.
The Flagler County School Board had been reconsidering its own start times–but in the other direction. Now, it may be faced with making tough choices regarding elementary-school start times, which would go from latest to earliest starting times in the county.
Currently in Flagler County, middle schools start the earliest, at 7:20 a.m., ending at 1:40 p.m. High schools start at 8:30, ending at 2:40 p.m. Elementary schools start the latest, at 9:10 a.m., even though younger students are most able to begin their day sooner. But no district wants its youngest children waiting for buses in darkness.
District staff met with principals and crafted an alternative schedule. Elementary schools would start first, at 7:40 a.m., ending at 2:10. High schools would start second, at 8:30 a.m., ending at 3 p.m. Middle schools would start at 9:35 a.m., ending at 3:45 p.m.
“I know I’m going against the House bill,” Board member Christy Chong said, “but I’m just thinking as a parent who works, I would think most people wouldn’t like the idea of their younger children getting out at 2 o’clock and sitting in extended day for a longer period. That’s just me. I don’t know if there’s a way to work around that. Could there not be like an 8 o’clock start time somewhere?”
“That’s what I think, especially with everything that’s going on with school choice,” Board member Colleen Conklin said, “and then we’ll push people out the door in the elementary schools.” Meaning that still more parents will choose to enroll their students in private schools, or home-school them.
The law does not prevent an earlier start time for elementary schools. The district calculated that possibility: a start time of 8 a.m. in elementary schools would move high school to an 8:50 start, 20 minutes later than in the current plan, and would move middle school to a 9:55 a.m. start time. But principals at all school levels agreed that a start time later that 9:40 was not acceptable in any form, especially at the middle school level, which would see a two-hour switch. Similarly, no one wanted any starts before 7:35. So 7:40 was the compromise, for elementary schools.
There is still one more way to push all start times to 8 a.m., with none starting later than 9:35. But that would mean going to a two-tiered bus route system instead of the current three-tiered system. It would mean adding bus runs, which means adding buses, which means adding “a significant financial impact,” Rowls said. The school board is not keen on that.
When the board last discussed the matter on April 18, Conklin–who for years has been the district’s leading advocate for later start times for high school students, but not necessarily elementary school students–was hopeful that the district would not be forced into making too sharp a change. “Let’s wait and see what happens at the end of the session, because there they are starting to get a lot of pushback,” she said. “I am not in love with the idea of elementary school students starting earlier at all, 6, 6:30 in the dark, getting home at two o’clock. So maybe there’ll be a little bit more wiggle room in the parameters.”
But the bill sailed through with veto-proof majorities–38-2 in the Senate, 92-20 in the House. Flagler County’s representatives, Rep. Paul Renner and Sen. Travis Hutson, voted for it.
The bill, HB733, reflects long-standing science and pronouncements by the American Academy of Pediatrics that adolescents function better in school later rather than earlier, and that they are naturally predisposed to have trouble going to sleep before 11 p.m., or waking up earlier than 8 a.m., according to a legislative analysis of the bill. “The AAP also recognizes that insufficient sleep in adolescents is an important public health issue which affects the health, safety, and academic success of middle and high school students,” the analysis states. The key is a later school start time.
There will be no changes in school start times next year in Flagler. But the district had been considering changes for the following year, a year earlier than those required by the state, should Gov. Ron DeSantis sign the bill.
The much later start time for middle school students in Flagler reflects discussions in the administration and on the board about concerns that middle school students were being released too soon in the day, leaving them too much idle, unsupervised time at home when their parents are working. For high school students, the discussions centered on their job opportunities after school. But district officials say the different start times will not impact their ability to work.
Compared to surrounding districts–St. Johns releases its high school students at 3:50 p.m., Volusia at 3:30 p.m.–Flagler County would still release its high school students earlier, thus enabling the students to participate in after school activities without interfering with cross-county competitions’ schedules.
The district services students all the way from Marineland in the north to Hunters Ridge in the south, Flagler Beach to the east and the Mondex to the west. Currently some of the outlying students have to be picked up as early as 6:20 a.m. to make it to Flagler Palm Coast High School. “Inner city areas,” where the majority of students are picked up and dropped off, says Dontarrious Rowls, the district’s transportation director, are usually service within about 30 minutes of the school start time.
Playing into the discussion is extended day, the pre- and after-school child care program run by the district’s Adult Education division. By changing the start and end times, it could potentially change staffing needs of the program. It could also affect teacher planning time and middle school extra curricular scheduling, which could be split between pre-school and after-school schedules. Those elements are still being analyzed.
“With this information, we could continue to explore options by developing stakeholder groups and committees to look at the timeline of implementation,” Dave Freeman, the district’s chief of operations, said. “The best time to do this will most likely be the 2425 school year or we could remain what the current start times until we’re directed by DOE to make that change in school year 26-27.”
The board will have to go a step further: “District school boards and charter school governing boards must inform their communities, including parents, students, teachers, school administrators, athletic coaches, and other stakeholders, about the health, safety, and academic impacts of sleep deprivation on middle school and high school students,” the legislative analysis of the bill states. “Stakeholders must also be made aware of the benefits of a later school start time and discuss local strategies to successfully implement the later school start times.”
This doesn’t prepare out highschool kids for real world expectations! Your boss is not going to change your hours because you were up late on tik tok.
Now they are thinking about a 4 day school week. If parents enforced a bedtime that is age appropriate during school times and disallowed I pads, phones, etc. from the bedrooms, kids would get more sleep. I know people who have pre teens and teens and they take their devices to bed and spend hours on them. When I was a teen in school, Bedtime was 9:00, but later in summer and school vacations. from 1st grade to about 7th grade, bedtime was 7:30-8 and later in summer and school vacations. Used to get caught sometimes trying to read a book under the blanket with a flashlight, LOL.
I remember the same times for me to go to bed, unfortunately kids control the parents these days and they do whatever they want. IMO the reason is because back (i believe in the 80’s) parents rights to discipline their kids with a little tap on their butts for misbehaving was taken away and that open the door for kids to take control. Fast forward to today and you have the large majority of teenagers and some younger kids walking around with chips on their shoulders that no one can discipline them and they get away with everything. I say bring back the wood sheds and allow parents to discipline again.
The start time can be changed as many times as you want, but then there will be someone some day coming up with an excuse to change it to some other time. Leave the start time alone and have the kids follow the rules of the house as to when to go to bed. They brake the rules, discipline them appropriately.
the times need to be changed, small children (elementary) are up early anyway, and regardless of dismissal require supervision, middle school kids shouldn’t be home alone by 2pm and out the door before sunrise…
@ Parent says
Exactly! I was able to change my hours at work from 9-5 to 8-4 to get home earlier but still my Indian Trails 6th grader is Home at 2:15 all by herself, while she stands in the dark for half an hour on a dark street corner out of sight from my house waiting for the highly erratic bus service at 11 years old. Getting up at 5:45 each morning is getting old. It was never like this when I Was a kid!
While they may up earlier…. some will be have to stay at extended day for hours. Imagine leaving the house at 630am and not getting home till 530 or 6 at night. This seems excessive for a 5 ,6 or 7 year old.
PC PARENT says
…. but it’s okay for the younger kids to be home by 2pm alone? What about all of the parents that have kids in elementary school that cannot get out of work that early? I would feel way more comfortable with my older kids home alone until I get home from work rather than my 6 year old! They younger kids also shouldn’t be out at the bus stops when it’s dark still. Some parents don’t have the luxury to have those extra care options or to have a work schedule that coincides with the school times. JMO…
So younger kids that need supervision should be home by 2? In Biden’s America people need to work as much as possible to make their bills. No way they can be home before 2 for supervision
Jay Tomm says
They should instead get rid of bus stops in the middle of major roads. NO REASON my kids should get pickup on on RT100, pine lakes, or palm coast pkwy directly.
It endangers my kids & creates traffic, accidents & aggressive driving.
A mother says
This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read!! The high school and middle school kids need to be prepared for the real world! Sleeping in as an adult isn’t the real world! There is no reason the young children need to be in school earlier than the “adult” children!! Take their phones away! Put them to bed! HOW ABOUT PARENTING!? Wow Flagler county!!