The lazy days of summer are over. Saugerties students are once again waking up bright and early to make it to class. For middle and high school students, that means 7:45 a.m. But a growing body of research suggests school districts should consider letting students sleep in.
A new policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics says sleep-deprived students have trouble focusing in class and face an increased risk of depression and obesity. Conversely, schools that start classes later report less daytime sleepiness and better academic performance. They recommend that school start times be delayed for middle and high schools until 8:30 a.m. or later.
According to a CNN article, two communities in Virginia and Kentucky reported a significant decrease in motor vehicle crashes involving teens after moving classes later, thanks to fewer fatigued teens on the roads.
Starting school at such an early hour, according to experts in the health field, is detrimental because adolescents are in a period of flux. Their natural circadian rhythm is shifting later. Adolescents may find it difficult to fall asleep before 11 p.m., and when they need to wake by 6 a.m. to catch the bus, they are not getting the recommended nine to ten hours of sleep. According to a 2006 National Sleep Foundation poll, 87 percent of high schoolers are not getting the recommended amount of sleep.
Pediatricians and other health professionals are not the only ones to make these recommendations. United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has voiced support for later school start times. Duncan and other leaders in the education field see a connection between lack of sleep and lack of focus, leading to poor academic performance.
The movement to change school start times is gaining traction. Districts from New England to California have moved their start times later. More than 20 districts in Florida have start times between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. In Virginia, there has been such success with these shifts that 72 of the state’s 85 counties have start times of 8 a.m. or later.
Regionally, the Glens Falls High School in the Capital District of New York switched its start time to 8:26 a.m. in 2012. Since then, it has seen a decrease in tardiness, discipline referrals and failures.
Even closer to home, a group comprised of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach at SUNY New Paltz and the Legislative Action Committee of the Ulster County School Boards Association recently issued a policy brief that outlines research on the subject, and “provides a framework for thinking about implementation of this idea in Ulster County.” According to this report, New Paltz is already considering shifting their start times.
Members of the Saugerties School Board received copies of this policy paper prior to their August meeting. Superintendent Seth Turner cautioned that if the district tried to implement such a shift it would take multiple years.
School Board President George Heidcamp had no comment for this article.