Early school start times are something that students and parents alike hate. Parents complain of having to use a crowbar to get their teenagers out of bed and off to school on time. Students complain their brains can’t focus that early in the morning. The kids aren’t just whining. They’re telling the truth. Early start times at schools, especially high schools and middle schools, affect student health and performance. Early school start times don’t just make students grumpy (something every parent of a teenager knows without having to read a survey). Early school start times endanger our teenagers. Schools that start early in the morning see lower grades, decreased attendance, more sick students, and more traffic accidents.
As the Inquisitr pointed out last summer, early school start times make students unhealthy. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree: early start times are physically and emotionally unhealthy for students. It’s not their parents’ imagination — high school students actually experience a change in their circadian rhythms, making it normal and natural for them to stay up later at night and then sleep in later in the morning. They’re not doing it just to annoy their parents. It’s a normal part of puberty, like acne and other physical changes. The average teenager finds it difficult to fall asleep before 11 p.m. If the bus comes at 6:15 a.m., that means less than seven hours of sleep, depending on how late they fall asleep and how early they get up to get ready for school.
“Even without the pressure of biological changes, if we combine an early school starting time — say 7:30 a.m., which, with a modest commute, makes 6:15 a.m. a viable rising time —with our knowledge that optimal sleep need is 9 and one-fourth hours. We are asking that 16-year olds go to bed at 9 p.m. Rare is a teenager that will keep such a schedule. School work, sports practices, clubs, volunteer work, and paid employment take precedence. When biological changes are factored in, the ability even to have merely ‘adequate’ sleep is lost.”
What happens when students are forced to get up early? What’s the big deal? After all, Benjamin Franklin, one of our wisest Founding Fathers, said “Early to bed and early to rise will make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Dr. Franklin was speaking of adults. For teenagers, not getting enough sleep endangers their physical and mental health, their safety, and their academic achievement. Insufficient sleep leads to insufficient exercise and poor diet, which leads to overweight students in a nation already an obesity crisis. Many high school students drive. Insurance companies state that teenage drivers are less experienced and tend to be more reckless. When an inexperienced driver is a sleep-deprived driver, the accident rate soars. Contrariwise, when schools have later start times, the crash rate for teenage drivers declines dramatically, according to a study published by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system, which means students whose schools start too early get sick more easily and more often. Schools that alter their schedules for later start times have found absenteeism and tardiness down and grades up.
CNN reported that the AAP recommended that high schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 14 percent — less than one-fifth — of public high schools start that late.
In Danbury, Connecticut, Danbury High School (DHS) starts at 7:20 a.m. As reported by journalism student Joy-Anne Foster in the Hatter’s Herald, most DHS students aren’t happy about it. However, in Millington, Tennessee, the Millington Central High School (MCHS) Trojans would be jealous of the Danbury Hatters. MCHS starts classes at 7 a.m. And at James Madison High School in San Diego, California, the Warhawks don’t start their first class period until a (by comparison) leisurely late start of 7:25 a.m.
The Bellingham Herald reports that in Washington, the state senate has unanimously passed a bill to study the benefits of later school start times. The original version of the bill, written by State Senator Rosemary McAuliffe, would have banned early school start times throughout Washington.
What time does your local high school start? Is your school district putting the students’ health and safety first, or are the school start times dangerously early?
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