Wednesday, September 30, 2020
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Md. parents disappointed with start-time change

Writing in the Capital Gazette, Lisa VanBusKirk, the chapter leader of Start School Later Anne Arundel County, Maryland, says leadership is needed in the county in order to make the change in high school start times from 7:17 to 8:30 AM during the 2016-17 school year, not the 2017-18 school year, as the district now intends to do.

We’ve reported the need to push high school start times back to at least 8:30, but schools have resisted the change, citing cost increases from rerouting bus schedules, impacts the change might have on sports or other after-school activities, and possible disruptions to family or student work schedules. Evidence comes from published research and the American Academy of Pediatrics, but sometimes, even the best evidence isn’t enough to cause action.

But last year, the Anne Arundel County Public Schools decided they would move the high school start times to the earliest time recommended by the academy, 8:30 AM, and now Ms VanBusKirk wants the district to make that happen sooner rather than later.

Under Superintendent George Arlotto’s current budget proposal, high schools in the district would start at 8:30, middle schools at 9:30, and elementary schools between 7:50 and 9:15. Only the high and middle school times represent a change. But the change wouldn’t take effect until the 2017-18 school year, and there is still some rumbling that middle school students would be dismissed after 4:00.

“Those of us who have long advocated for change are disappointed … that the budget fails to support the Board of Education’s promised timetable for correcting the too-early bell times for more than 22,000 high school students in the 2016-17 school year,” she writes. Mr Arlotto’s “statement to the school board that he is ‘not opposed’ to later start times is not the resounding direction and leadership he could provide to the county, the state, and even the entire country on this issue.”

High school start times in Anne Arundel County are the earliest in the state of Maryland and among the earliest in the nation. For more of our research and writing on this subject, see the list of articles here.

A one-year study just completed in the schools of Edison, New Jersey, examined the sleep habits of 3,000 teenagers and is believed to be the largest study of its kind to date. Researchers at the JFK Medical Center showed that over 60 percent of students are not getting enough sleep because of late-night texting or phone use, and 20 to 25 percent are awakened from their sleep responding to texts, reports NJTV Online.org.

“We’re talking about a chronically sleep deprived adolescent and, in my opinion, adult population,” the station quoted Dr Peter Polos, the study’s lead author, as saying. “Quality and quantity of sleep are important for brain development, for organizing thoughts of the day, helping with memory consolidation. We know that normal sleep is critical for development, physiological development.”

But it’s not easy for teens to turn off their smartphones, as one research subject in the Edison study was shown grabbing her smartphone even when she knew she was being recorded for a sleep study. But when teens’ bodies need to sleep, the smartphone gets put away.

“Previously I used to spend ridiculous amounts of time on my phone and it would interfere with my sleep, so I have to take specific steps to be able to say, ‘No, I need my sleep,'” one junior was quoted as saying.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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