Thursday, November 21, 2019
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Howard Co. rescinds policy to start school after 8 AM

The board of education for the students of Howard County, Maryland, roughly between Washington and Baltimore, voted last month not to move forward with the district’s plan to adjust high school start times from the current 7:25 AM to a time later than 8:00.

Voxitatis is on the record about the harmful effects we believe come to teenagers who have to start school before 8:30 AM, the time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and every organization under the sun that cares about the health and well-being of teenagers. I will therefore not repeat myself here.

I publish this article simply to add a student’s voice to the many doctors and scientists I have already repeated on these pages. I have this opportunity, because the student newspaper at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia quoted not only the student member of the Howard County school board but a junior at the school, a person who is directly affected by this decision.

“From my experience, having school start at 7:25 is one of the worst schedules ever,” The Paw Print’s editor in chief, Rachel Henry, quoted the junior as saying. “We are not apt to learn at such an early time, not to mention that it doesn’t account for the time it takes to wake up and get ready for the day.”

Anna Selbrede, the student board member, reportedly said the least expensive option for redoing bus schedules and making other operational changes to accommodate the pushing back of the start time to one that is more in line with teenagers’ circadian rhythms would cost the district more than $6 million. That’s “money we likely do not have,” Ms Selbrede was quoted as saying.

Last year, under Superintendent Renee Foose, who left the district abruptly after a few scandals erupted, the board voted to push the start times back to after 8:00 for high school, which is still a half hour earlier than the AAP or CDC recommends—some researchers suggested 10:00 would be a good time—but that plan is toast for the moment.

Information about teenagers’ circadian rhythms has been part of the published scientific record for several decades. Everybody, it seems, knows starting too early is a bad idea, and unlike climate change, nobody denies, or even disputes, this research.

Still, many school districts around the country have been slow to adapt start times for high school students. Issues other than money have been cited in a few cases: sports or activity schedules, work schedules for students who have to make money for their families, the need to have high school students home to look after younger siblings.

So, I’m not saying compromise isn’t possible, but 7:25 is just too early for teenagers. The board, recognizing the importance of this issue, promised to continue exploring the options, but if the money to support the changes required can’t be found and no other options truly exist, even if we think about this really hard, the outcome will not likely change next time.

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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