Denair superintendent recommends 8:30 a.m. start time for all campuses beginning in August

Denair Unified School District Superintendent Terry Metzger recommended to trustees Thursday night that school begin 30 minutes later starting in August to comply with a new state law. Board members took no action Thursday, but are expected to make a final decision at their April meeting.

It is a move that would affect each of the district’s 1,200 kindergarten through 12th-grade students.

Currently, school begins at 8 a.m. at Denair’s four campuses. A law passed by the California Legislature and signed by the governor in 2019 says districts cannot start before 8 a.m. for middle school students or 8:30 a.m. for high school students. It was based on research regarding sleep deprivation in adolescents and the benefits for them of a later start time.

Metzger told trustees that having different start times on its campuses was not practical for a small district like Denair, primarily for the impact it would have on transportation. Denair has two bus routes. Students at all grades levels ride together. Having any campus start school before 8:30 a.m. would mean high school students would have to arrive early – undermining the intent of the new law.

Equally important, Metzger said, was the impact on parents and others who have children attending multiple campuses and drive their kids to school. 

“They told us they were not doing multiple drop-offs,” Metzger said. 

In conjunction with the revised schedule, the district is in the process of expanding its before- and after-school academic options. Metzger stressed that the Extended Learning Opportunities Program (ELOP) is not a replacement for child-care services currently available. Rather, she explained, it is an effort to mitigate the ongoing academic issues for students associated with the two-year COVID-19 pandemic. The district expects to receive about $845,000 annually in federal funding for the program.

Possible ELOP services could include tutoring, homework help, reading practice, opportunities for middle and high school students to talk one-on-one with teachers or to work on group projects in the library.

“This is the perfect opportunity to rethink what we’re doing,” Metzger said. “It allows us to get in compliance with the law at 8:30 and offer before- and after-school instruction to assist working parents. We’re being strategic in the kinds of programs we’ll be able to engage students in.”

Parents will have to register their children for ELOP. Metzger said more information will be sent home in the next week explaining the program and asking parents if they are likely to be interested. She expects as many as 500 students could participate. The federal money will cover the full cost of the program, including staffing, she said.

“This is not child care,” Metzger stressed. “It is intended to be instructional.”

In other action Thursday night, trustees:

  • Listened as Metzger provided an update on the new COVID masking rules laid out by state health officials that take effect Monday. Beginning that day, masks will be optional for students and staff. Metzger said her primary concern is that students don’t feel any extra pressure whether they wear masks or not. “We don’t want them to feel bullied or pressured,” she said. “Whether you wear a mask or not is a non-issue.”
  • Voted to remove the “interim” label from the title of Denair Middle School Principal Gabriela Sarmiento. Sarmiento, a former DMS teacher, took over in October when former Principal Amanda Silva become the district’s interim director of special education.
  • Voted to accept the Second Interim Budget report. It shows that revenues have declined slightly this year due because of lower attendance (likely related to COVID) and lower enrollment. Still, money received from state and federal sources is expected to grow in the 2022-23 and 2023-24 budget cycles.
  • Approved a new contract for various services provided in the 2022-23 school year by the Stanislaus County Office of Education. The total cost is $171,820.920, an increase of about $11,800 from this year.
  • Approved the formation of a softball club at Denair Middle School, intended to better prepare girls to play at the high school level.
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