By Nicholas von Wettberg
After a month-long break, the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) School Board will meet later this week at the City Hall Community Chambers for the final time of the calendar year.
One item on the agenda for Thursday, Dec. 17, is a status report made by the district about the exploratory process into implementing a later start policy for its junior and senior high schools.
Since February, the five-member board has heard multiple presentations on the necessary steps to install a system, that, if eventually approved by trustees, would push back starting times at least half an hour for each of the DJUSD schools.
The potential change in schedule seems like the logical move, considering the mounting piles of clinical evidence that recommend adolescents receive 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep per day.
And parents know all too well that, once kids reach a certain age, their body clocks begin to change. And because of those unique Circadian rhythms, falling asleep before 11 pm can be a nightly chore for many teenagers.
The district has resisted diving head first into a later start school system, opting instead for a wait-and-see approach, where delegated committees (awareness, scheduling, measurement) can explore all the facets to the multi-layered process.
Education within the community is the first step in the staff’s latest recommended course of action, which includes informing parents, teachers, students, and the public about “the importance of sleep for teens and the factors that affect the quality and duration of teenage sleep.”
The second course of action, recommended by the staff, is to readjust the logistics for co-enrollment — the purpose being that it distinguishes the schedules between junior and senior high schools. The proposal allows for the world language program at the high school level to remain intact for at least two more years.
As for a timeline of when junior high schools can expect the change to an 8:30 am start, the district staff says in its report that it “will occur no later than the 2017-18 school year.”
The senior high schools are beginning a stretch that will focus on a start time of 8:30 am and ending time of approximately 3:30 pm. Once again, co-enrollment will be accounted for, and the projected implementation target is the 2017-18 school year.
During the 14-month period, opportunities for senior high school staff will be available to “explore schedule format options, engage stakeholders and participate in relevant professional development if necessary.”
The fifth and final recommended course of action is to continue the exploration process but look into seeing whether times for elementary schools require adjustment.
The report leaves the process up for judgment if there are aspects that could be implemented before the objective timeline of the 2017-18 school year.
A recent study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) backed what other health organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended for years: the delay of start times for secondary schools.
In its presentation, the district reported that over two thirds of Davis High School students polled said they received less than 8 hours of sleep daily.
With the amount of sleep that adolescents get at the core of the issue, their learning process/brain function is marginalized. Just as important are the risks that accompany sleep deprivation: obesity and depression.
Parents, who are often accused of “resetting the academic clock” through their reluctance to change, face tough decisions when it comes to a later start schedule.
They are the most vocal opponents of the system because of concerns with after-school transportation/child care, babysitting, and kids’ extracurricular activities like athletics.
In January, parents of district students will have an opportunity to learn more about the later start system on Tuesday, January 26, at the 4th annual DJUSD Parent Engagement Night.
The event, titled “Helping Your Child Thrive in School,” is from 6 to 9 pm, and will be held at the Harper Junior High School multipurpose room.