Amherst Regional High School, middle school will have later start time

  • Amherst-Pelham Regional High School

Staff Writer
Published: 3/3/2021 8:43:31 PM

AMHERST — Students at Amherst Regional middle and high schools will begin their school days later in the mornings when the next school year begins in the fall, when most of them will return for in-person education for the first time since last March.

A unanimous vote by the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional school committees Tuesday adopts a plan that essentially flips the schedules for the elementary and secondary schools from when buildings were fully open during the 2019-20 school year.

“This shift to a later start time for our secondary students will have a tremendous positive impact on their overall wellness and academic performance, and after this challenging school year is even more important,” said Allison McDonald, chairwoman of the Amherst and regional committees.

Under the plan, the secondary students, who come from Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett, will have a school day starting no earlier than 8:45 a.m., while elementary school students in Amherst and Pelham would start their school days after 8 a.m.

Leverett and Shutesbury elementary schools are likely to follow suit, though the school committees in those towns, which are part of School Union 28, have not yet voted. McDonald said a positive vote is not needed from the regional schools to make the change. 

Before the pandemic, high schoolers and middle schoolers had their first classes at 7:45 a.m., with the school day ending at 2:20 p.m. Classes have started later during remote education this school year. Elementary schools in the four regional towns of the region are in school from around 8:30 a.m. to around 3 p.m.

After the idea was broached by Superintendent Michael Morris in January, administrators reached out to families, staff and students. Surveys showed significant support for the change, with about three-quarters overall in favor. While eight in 10 parents and guardians liked the change, students were more divided, with about 60% in favor.

Morris has supported the concept. “Research is conclusive that later start times for secondary students contribute to better outcomes in a variety of areas, including academics and overall well-being,” he said.

The decision comes after Northampton school officials implemented a schedule in December in which elementary students start at 8 a.m., middle schoolers at 8:30 a.m. and high schoolers at 9 a.m.

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