IOWA CITY — The Iowa City school board on Tuesday approved a new 2015-16 calendar that lengthens the school day for elementary school students by 30 minutes, has junior high and high school students start the day earlier and trims the school year by five days.
Superintendent Stephen Murley told board members the changes were in response to concerns about insufficient instructional time for elementary students. The start time changes for older students were necessary to maintain bussing schedules, he said.
But several parents, four students and two physicians told board members that starting school earlier would hurt junior-high and high-school students’ academic performance and mental health.
“If we have to get up earlier, it’d be hard, especially for us teenagers, who need multiple alarms to get up now,” said Jake Anderson, a West High School student who said he gets up early to participate in athletics. “In first period now, it’s hard for me to focus and get anything out of it.”
Cecelia Norris, a parent and physician, agreed.
“I can’t find anything that says that it’s smart to do this,” Norris said. “This is not a simple adjustment we’re asking our high school students to make. This is going against their very biology.”
The board voted to go into closed session to discuss the calendar options, following concerns expressed by administrators and board members about how the possible changes would affect teacher contract negotiations.
When board members reconvened in open session, they voted to approve a plan that moved start and end times at all schools 15 minutes later than administrators had originally proposed.
Under the plan the board approved:
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• Elementary schools will start at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:45 p.m. Elementary schools this year start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3 p.m.
• Junior high and high schools will start at 8 a.m. and end at 3:10 p.m. Junior high schools this year have class from 8:10 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. High schools this year run from 8:05 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
• All schools will end the day one hour early on Thursdays.
• School will begin on Aug. 24 and end on May 25, 2016.
With the change, the Iowa City Community School District follows the Cedar Rapids Community School District, among others, in basing its calendar on a number of instructional hours, rather than instructional days.
The board Tuesday also approved the hire of Gregg Shoultz as the next principal of West High School. Shoultz is now the principal of Northwest Junior High School.
West High principal Jerry Arganbright in February announced his retirement after 31 years at the school. Shoultz will start July 1.