Back in February, the DJUSD school board instructed Superintendent Winfred Roberson Superintendent to appoint a committee formed for the purposes of recommending an implementation plan that would adjust the start times for all DJUSD Junior and Senior High schools. The direction began a community conversation around the importance of sleep for teens.
Associate Superintendent Matt Best has led this effort since last winter and is now taking the discussion online. “Starting this week, we are excited to launch a 9-week public awareness campaign and community conversation on Facebook using the hashtag #djusdLaterStart to increase awareness and discussion about the importance of teen sleep. It is our hope parents and students will take this new opportunity to understand research and join the conversation on social media,” stated Matt Best in a press release from the district.
According to the release, “The Facebook campaign will share research and identify important questions about consequences of poor sleep habits and competing interests in the lifestyles of teens. DJUSD has also created a website to educate staff, students, parents and community members about the value of sleep on student learning and to gather valued input.”
The DJUSD Later Start Committee shall continue this school year with the goal to present recommendations to the Board of Education in December 2015.
The school board back in April heard a presentation regarding the Later Start Committee Report. Staff recommended postponing implementation until all stakeholders could be included.
That slow down follows the quick push from February, when the school board, ed by President Alan Fernandes, took action to move the district in the direction of implementing a policy that would adjust the start times for middle and high schools in the district to 8:30 a.m. beginning the next school year.
Mr. Fernandes told the Vanguard back in February, “The Board voted 5-0 to request an implementation plan for a later start for our secondary students, as we believe the positive benefits of adequate sleep align with, and are central to, our mission which focuses on the well-being of our students and goals of creating optimal conditions for learning.”
In his motion, he stated, “’School Start Times for Adolescents’ is a policy statement published in the September 2014 issue of Pediatrics.” According to this article, Mr. Fernandes continued, “the research clearly demonstrates that sleep deprivation is linked to increased rates of obesity and depression among youth. The article goes on to argue that a school start time of 8:30am or later is an easy fix that will mitigate problems caused by sleep deprivation among American adolescents and is an important step schools can do to improve the health and well-being of children.”
The motion specifically instructed “the Superintendent to appoint a committee formed for the purposes of recommending an implementation plan that would adjust the start times for all DJUSD middle and high schools to at or about 8:30am beginning at the next school year.”
Board Vice President Madhavi Sunder told the Vanguard, “There are, of course, many causes for teens not getting the sleep they need — including electronics in the bedroom. But the nation’s leading children’s health and mental health professionals also lay the blame directly at the school house door.”
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.”
Ms. Sunder noted, “The American Academy of Pediatrics says ‘a too early start to the school day is a critical contributor to chronic sleep deprivation among American adolescents.’”
“The scientific evidence is clear: the time the first bell rings in the morning is a critical contributor to teens’ sleep deprivation. Schools are a crucial part of the problem, but we can also be a critical part of the solution,” she continued.
“Changing our bell schedule is a critical step. And we can do more,” she stated.
“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.”
The Facebook campaign is just part of the outreach that DJUSD has laid out for the community. There will also be classroom lessons, a website, a forum, and direct mail to parents. The district is looking to have surveys and meetings this fall with a potential finalized recommendation for the Superintendent by the end of November and an implementation plan by January 2016.
—David M. Greenwald reporting