Opinion: School Should Start Later

Posted on May 24, 2017 by

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A student woke up late again and missed the bus. Now mom has to take him to school, which makes her late for work, but on the silent car ride they ponder how great it would be to have an extra half hour in the morning. Almost a hundred years ago, most schools and businesses would start around 9:00 a.m. Once the 1970’s and 1980’s came around, so did the introduction of earlier school times. Saving money on transportation was appealing to most; even schools that did not need early transportation found the earlier start times helpful when it came to after school and neighboring schools’ activities. Unfortunately, with this new system intact, there was a noticeable problem throughout the community. As public schools started to adjust their starting times, it would throw off a handful of nearby residents’ schedules. For example, elementary schools starting around 9:00 or 9:30 a.m. forced parents with early starting jobs to send their children to before-school care. Starting schools earlier than 8 a.m. is found problematic to more than just students but to parents and teachers as well.

A woman by the name of Janet Croft has studied teens and sleep at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA. Five out of six schools in the U.S. start before 8:30 a.m., and, as Croft said, “schools start at such an early time that most teens are essentially brain dead when they go to these early classes.” Sleep deprived teens are so common in this century that the CDC calls it an “epidemic,” or a widespread public-health problem. Teens experience a shift in their natural sleep schedules. As children grow and are put on a strict early morning schedule, it becomes easier to go against the body’s natural alarm clock, but it makes sleeping before 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. practically impossible. Some kids wake up as early as 5:30 a.m. to make sure they prepare themselves for the day ahead and get to school on time. That itself already cuts into the 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep teens need to be healthy–not to mention, the first period class that starts around 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. is also cutting into the recommended hours of sleep.

 A study published in 2010 found that sleepiness at the wheel and poor sleep quality increased the risk of motor vehicle accidents in teens.  Results show that teen drivers were twice as likely to have had a crash if they experienced sleepiness while driving or reported having bad sleep. Early high school start times might lead to both chronically restricted sleep (with increased sleep pressure) and misalignment of sleep cycles. These alterations could degrade the performance of activities, such as driving and academics. Teen drivers have a hard time as it is staying focused on the road due to the inconvenience of and attachment they have formed to technology such as phones. Most accidents are blamed on “distracted” teens, but did it ever occur to society that it could have been sleep deprivation? Insufficient sleep increases the risk of crashes in younger drivers. Drowsy driving alone is responsible for 20% of all car crashes. Drivers ages 17 to 24 who reported sleeping six or fewer hours per night were about 20% more likely to be involved in a car crash over a two-year period, compared with those who slept more than six hours a night. A long-term lack of sleep may not only cause immediate drowsiness at the wheel but may affect a young driver’s judgment over time.

There are a couple obstacles schools have to face to make change work efficiently. Most school districts have a delicately balanced bus transportation system designed to run as efficiently and inexpensively as possible; any change in the school schedule can have a severe impact. Problems that districts may face while trying to design a more efficient schedule include price variations, recruiting new drivers, and redesigning  the bus routes. One potential solution that has been discussed is to switch the high school starting time with elementary time. Young children tend to wake up early. If the young students have to go to school so early, they have to go to bed very early (because they need 10 to 11 hours of sleep). Parents may not arrive home from work until very near or after bedtime. The direct flip cannot work unless all start times are reasonable.  Another solution that may be implemented is a shift to public transportation for older students. In many cases, the public bus routes are similar to yellow bus routes and can be used by students. Many districts have found they can actually save money by buying students bus passes and eliminating a large portion of their yellow bus fleet. For kids who are involved in extracurricular activities, this idea stands as a problem. With this adjustment, a later release time may reduce time available for practice and matches (especially daylight hours). If school gets out later, some athletes might be required to leave class early in order to attend a match. In this case, students may have to choose between a game and a test, a choice no student should have to make.

By improving the school times, kids will pay more attention and be alert in the morning. Some might even like coming to school because they will feel refreshed and ready to learn. Waking up with confidence and a smile can improve anyone’s mood, but to do that, a good night’s sleep is needed. Children should be getting 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep to be healthy.

Posted in: Rayanna Celmer