OPRF opts not to start schooldays later

After much deliberation, Oak Park and River Forest High School has decided a later start time is not feasible, and the current start time, 8 a.m., will remain. OPRF drafted two possible bell schedules with later start times, neither of which will be implemented.

The school detailed the drafts in a letter dated Jan. 11 and shared with the larger school community on Jan. 26., signed by Laurie Fiorenza, Ed.D., assistant superintendent for student learning.

The first proposed schedule would have school start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:41 p.m. This schedule was rejected because of complications that would arise with athletics, specifically difficulty transporting students to competitions and reduced availability of athletic facilities for outside community groups.

The second proposed schedule would have school start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:25 p.m., shortening class periods to accommodate the change. This schedule was rejected because the school day was significantly shortened, and ultimately resulted in the loss of 2,370 instructional minutes per year—the equivalent of roughly 48 class periods, according to the document.

The shorter class periods of this schedule would negatively impact physical education and consumer science classes because students would have fewer opportunities to engage in lab-based activities. The schedule would also interfere with athletic scheduling in a way similar to the first proposed schedule change.

Furthermore, the reduced classroom minutes would negatively impact driver’s education students. Driver’s education students can currently miss eight days before the class is forcibly dropped, but with this new schedule change those potential absence days would be reduced to four.

Junior Alix Schigelone said, in response to the statement, the current start time is ineffective, as students are too tired to focus. “Students are always falling asleep in class, and because of the fact we have to be at school so early we are all really tired and it is hard to get work done,” she said.

About the current start time, Schigelone was concerned about students who need to go to school early for help or an extracurricular activity. “I don’t see how you could focus on sports or clubs or tutoring if you had to wake up even earlier,” she said. She also considered how students could go to sleep early, but said that may not be possible if they have other obligations (homework, extracurriculars, work, etc.).

At the Jan. 26 District 200 board meeting, board member Mary Anne Mohanraj expressed concern about how quickly the decision for the schedule was made. She acknowledged the concerns, but said, “I just feel like this is a really under-discussed, underdeveloped issue. I’d like to see an equity analysis of it.”

Mohanraj noted research showing the benefits of starting later, and she suggested the community may not have been entirely aware of the research. “So, I feel like the community hasn’t had the arguments made to them…I think there maybe needed to be a broader community conversation,” she said.

Salomé Henry, a junior, echoed Mohanraj’s desire to continue the conversation. “I think that all students and staff would be positively impacted with later start times, and I’m sure we can devise other systems for students with extracurriculars. I think the benefit it would provide for all people would outweigh some of the few difficulties,” Henry said.

Later start times have been under consideration for the last few years, according to an article by Fiorenza published on the school website. In the fall of 2021, OPRF conducted a survey asking the question, “Based on your feedback last spring, OPRF High School is committed to exploring the potential for block scheduling/or a later start to the school day. Now that school is back in person, what are your thoughts about block scheduling and/or a later start?”

Results from 1,988 participants showed that most stakeholders did not favor block scheduling, though the report noted that research supports later start times for high schools.