Recently, in Salt Lake City, a meeting was held to get the public’s opinion on pushing back the start times of high schools in the city by at least 30 minutes. The participants, of course, are on board with the proposal. Still, teachers, but teachers, parents, and students have varying opinions on the matter because this decision affects more than solely the health and well-being of the students.
The response from parents seems to be positive, as many of them stood up at the public meeting to express their support for approximately 80 minutes. At the moment, there are a few possible plans on the table for altering the start times, including no change and a 15-minute, 30-minute, and 60-minute change. Another proposal is changing the start-time on and off for the next five years or longer.
The Pros—And the Science Behind It
Parents of students attending Salt Lake City’s high schools have a handful of different reasons for being in support of later start times. Overall, the parents who are in favor of the proposal believe that if their children go to school at a later time, their grades, attention-span, and health (physical and mental) would improve. One mother says it will be easier to get her sons up and ready for school with a later start time, while another father says that his daughter would do much better in her class if she wasn’t going to it so early in the morning. According to parent Dave Stroud, “…it helps in so many ways. I support it.”
Parents aren’t the only ones who agree with an early start time, but so does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Sleep Foundation. Lack of sleep is linked to many health risks that now plague young students, including substance abuse and being overweight, and doing poorly in school. It is recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine that teens sleep 8 to 10 hours per night for their health. However, in order to get this amount of sleep and wake up at 6 am for school, students would need to fall asleep between 8 and 10 pm. How many high-schoolers do you know that go to bed at 9 pm? Not many, and without this quality sleep they pay the price.
Though many parents reported being pleased at the possibility of later start times at their children’s high schools, there were quite a few that saw potential issues. One downside to starting high schools later is that elementary schools will start earlier. This might sound great to the parents whose 9 year-olds are bouncing around with nothing to do at 7:30 am, but for those parents who rely on their high-schoolers to take care of and pick up these said 9 year-olds, it’s a big problem. This leads into the next issue, which is along the same lines. What about the parents who work multiple jobs and rely on this school schedule to have a place for their children to be for the majority of the day? What if they aren’t able to drop off their child at a later time? For them, this later start time is less than ideal.
For me, there is no question about whether or not I would support a later start time. I would do it in a heartbeat. When you’re a high-school student facing the pressures of academics, stress, athletics, college, family, mental health, physical health, and more, an extra hour or even an extra 15 minutes of sleep can make a huge difference. Insomnia is not an uncommon condition for an adolescent to have. It’s actually pretty common. That being said, when a student is falling asleep every night at midnight, 2 am, or 4am, they’re not getting the sleep they need and are more likely to be unsuccessful in the school day. Getting two hours of sleep every night is kind of like having all of the odds stacked against you, and if there’s anything schools can do to ease the difficulty of these normal teenagers, they should. I’m not in the position of a parent who disagrees with the late start time solely because of their job(s) or other circumstances, but there must be something the district can do help with that. Do the elementary school students, who the parents are most likely worried about, need to go to school earlier than the high-schoolers? Can the school get more busing? Are there other options? I can’t answer these questions, but my hope is that schools will at least try to think outside of the box in order to do what’s best for the health of their students.
This post was written by one of U4SC’s Educators 4SC Research Assistants, Samantha.[Image Attribute: Tony Webster]