On Thursday night the DJUSD School Board received an update from the study group, Later School Start, that is co-chaired by Davis High Vice Principal Mary Lynch and community member John Troidl. They have been asked to research the benefits and possible logistical challenges of a later start time for DJUSD secondary schools.
The school board, led by President Alan Fernandes, unanimously approved directing the study group, which has plans to conduct a local survey and prepare a feasibility report, to prepare instead an implementation plan which would change the start to 8:30 for high school and junior high school students.
The goal was to get something that they could discuss in April and Mr. Fernandes stressed that this was not approving the change, only looking at how a potential change could be implemented.
There is research that suggests that a later start time improves both health and academic performance.
The school board’s agenda includes a link to an August 2014 release from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which “recommends middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. Doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.”
“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics.
“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” Dr. Owens said. “Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”
Sleep deprivation, according to these studies, has reached epidemic proportion, as a “National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.”
The report cites a number of reasons for teens’ lack of sleep, including “homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and use of technology that can keep them up late on week nights.”
While these are important factors and the AAP recommends pediatricians work with parents and teens about healthy sleep habits, they primarily argue that “the evidence strongly suggests that a too-early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents.”
The report estimates that 40 percent of high schools in the U.S. currently have a start time before 8 a.m.; only 15 percent start at 8:30 a.m. or later. The median middle school start time is 8 a.m., and more than 20 percent of middle schools start at 7:45 a.m. or earlier.
“Napping, extending sleep on weekends, and caffeine consumption can temporarily counteract sleepiness, but they do not restore optimal alertness and are not a substitute for regular, sufficient sleep,” according to the AAP.
“The AAP urges middle and high schools to aim for start times that allow students to receive 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night. In most cases, this will mean a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later, though schools should also consider average commuting times and other local factors,” the report continues.
“The AAP is making a definitive and powerful statement about the importance of sleep to the health, safety, performance and well-being of our nation’s youth,” Dr. Owens said. “By advocating for later school start times for middle and high school students, the AAP is both promoting the compelling scientific evidence that supports school start time delay as an important public health measure, and providing support and encouragement to those school districts around the country contemplating that change.”
The research is fascinating, and the link between start times and performance, and also biorhythms, is very interesting. However, I cannot help but wonder if this isn’t targeting the wrong problem.
For example, I recall my first year of college. The first quarter, I made the mistake of scheduling 9 am classes, and, let me put this delicately, but I often found myself having trouble getting up for the classes.
Since I didn’t do very well my first quarter, my second quarter I arranged it so that I could have no class starting before noon. The problem was that, by gaining extra hours of sleep, I adjusted by going to bed even later. That quarter I’d often go to bed at an hour later than when I get up now.
My point is, the research is suggestive, but the bigger problem might be on the back end of things.
When I started college, we didn’t have the technological and electronic devices that cause problems today. Students with smart phones and iPads or other electronic devices are stimulating their brains at late hours which not only keeps them up later at night but also disrupts sleep patterns.
Thus, I am not convinced that the problem of lack of the recommended sleep will be resolved with a later start time.
There are a lot of moving parts here, but trying to get a plan together by April to implement it by next year seems like rushing things. I think we need a better understanding of local students’ sleep habits first and then think about how to deal with the problems, rather than imposing one solution that will probably create a whole host of other complications in order to be implemented.
I’m not opposed to the idea of a later start, but would rather take a more measured approach so that we are working with actual data before we make changes that will have impacts on a seven-period day and how late the school schedule goes, the working conditions of employees that will require collective bargaining agreements, and the impact on parents who may have to leave for work earlier than when their kids would arrive at school.
All of these are important factors that go beyond simple implementation.
—David M. Greenwald reporting