Okaloosa County School District specialists will present research to a committee March 23 to provide insight on how later school start times might affect students, teachers and schools.

The School Start Times Committee was formed in February after research from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that middle and high school students should start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The research shows that by allowing students to sleep in, they perform better academically and receive an overall better quality of life. The committee is gathering research only for high school students. 

“We want to be open minded” Assistant Superintendent Nick Kootsouradis said. “We’re trying to gather all of the information together so that the superintendent can provide options to the School Board regarding later school start times."

At the School Board meeting, the specialists will present information on school safety, student health, transportation, extra-curricular activities and curriculum impact.  Kootsouradis said one of the main problems he foresees is bus related issues.

“We run on a three-tier bus system,” Kootsouradis said. “High schools have the largest geographical area, so they take the longest time. If you put them in the middle tier it would mess everything up. If they’re last, they can end whenever they want but then it would interfere with all of our after-school activities.

"I'm not saying it can't be done," he added. "Money fixes a lot of things. I'm just saying we would need more money for more buses and bus drivers. Problem is, we can't find enough bus drivers as it is." 

Henry Kelley, program director for the school district's office of community affairs, said representatives from the district also will attend a school start times conference in Washington, D.C. in April to hear from experts. 

"We're asking ourselves, 'What's the best thing for our kids?' " Kelley said. "Hopefully, the conference will give us some additional insight into that." 

Kelley said for parents who feel their children need the extra sleep now and are able to provide them with a ride to school, the county's seven-period school day makes that possible. 

"Students are only required to take six periods," Kelley said. "Students can miss first period if their parents want them to get more sleep and we can schedule it in as a no class. The child just shows up for second period."

Kelley and Kootsouradis said parents can also investigate Okaloosa Online, where students can take one of their core classes online, or duel enrollment.