Schooled Reporting on education

Hitting snooze on school start times

Education | California proposes novel solution to teen sleep deprivation
by Laura Edghill
Posted 10/23/19, 02:50 pm

California last week became the first state in the country to mandate later school start times in an attempt to alleviate the effects of chronic sleep deprivation for teens.

Starting July 1, 2022, high schools in the state must start at 8:30 a.m. or later, and middle schools may not begin before 8 a.m. The move aligns California’s schools with the prevailing recommendations of all the major medical associations.

Numerous studies show the natural circadian rhythms of teenagers favor later nights and wake-up times, but the nation’s schools routinely start their days on average before 8 a.m., often shortchanging adolescents of the recommended eight to 10 hours of sleep.

“We think of it as almost a joke, that teenagers are always crabby in the morning and they stay up way too late,” said Celia Jaffe, president of the California State PTA. She described how the new law would help teens reap the benefits of some extra shut-eye: “It’s better for their mental health, it reduces depression and other mental health problems.”

Sleep-deprived teens have a higher risk of depression, obesity, suicidal thoughts, substance use, and even traffic accidents, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports. One study conducted in Lexington, Ky., showed a more than 16 percent decrease in teen traffic accidents after schools delayed their start times by one hour.

The national nonprofit group Start School Later called later start times a public health issue and said the state had a compelling interest in promoting healthy behavior in teens that affect the communities where they live. The advocacy group likens mandating later start times to protecting children from lead paint or educating them on the dangers of smoking.

But skeptics remain unconvinced of the law’s benefits, citing concerns with transportation, after-school athletic events running past daylight hours, equity issues for impoverished areas, and parents’ work constraints.

“Often working families have strict schedules with less work flexibility, and they won’t always be able to accommodate them in a way that’s necessary to make late start times work,” said Troy Flint, spokesman for the California School Boards Association.

The new law does not affect certain rural schools or popular “zero period” before-school activities like band. It also contains a waiver option for local districts with extenuating circumstances that would make later start times overly burdensome.

Associated Press/Photo by Teresa Crawford Associated Press/Photo by Teresa Crawford Chicago teachers sit outside City Hall on Wednesday.

Chicago school strike continues

Thousands of Chicago’s teachers and support staff used the fifth day of their strike on Wednesday to protest outside City Hall during a budget address by Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Earlier this week, the mayor, who is a Democrat, appealed to the city’s teachers union to end the strike and return to work even without a settled contract. Students who have continued to show up for school during the work stoppage have faced a skeleton crew of administrators and nonunion employees whose primary goals are to provide a safe space and ensure the students receive breakfast and lunch.

Parents of more than 300,000 students have kept their children out of school, asking relatives and neighbors for childcare or using one of the numerous “strike camps” that have popped up. Many local organizations like the YMCA and Salvation Army have opened free temporary drop-in programs as well.

The Chicago Teachers Union said its teachers would not return to the classroom without further progress on negotiations, but union President Jesse Sharkey said the strike could end this week. The union and district are fighting over class sizes, salaries, and staffing levels for nurses, librarians, social workers, and other support personnel. —L.E.

Getty Images/Photo by Don Emmert/AFP Getty Images/Photo by Don Emmert/AFP A sign outside the funeral home in Fairfield, Conn., where services were held in 2012 for Noah Pozner

School shooting victim defamed

A jury in Wisconsin last week awarded $450,000 to the father of a boy killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The judge ruled a book written by James Fetzer and Mike Palecek defamed the man, Leonard Pozner, by claiming the shooting never occurred and the death certificate for Pozner’s 6-year-old son, Noah, was a fabrication.

Conspiracy theorists have argued the government faked the shooting to force tighter gun restrictions. They have also harassed other parents and relatives of the shooting’s 26 victims. Pozner thanked the jury “for recognizing the pain and terror that Mr. Fetzer has purposefully inflicted on me and on other victims of these horrific mass casualty events, like the Sandy Hook shooting.”

Fetzer vowed to appeal, but co-author Palecek settled out of court last month under undisclosed terms. —L.E.

Res Publica Group Res Publica Group Alec Childress (center) with students

Crossing guard surprise

A school crossing guard got the surprise of his life earlier this month when more than 100 people showed up at his post to wish him a happy 80th birthday. With signs, balloons, cookies, and gifts, the community of current and former students, neighbors, and families celebrated Alec Childress and thanked him for being a positive influencer.

The iconic neighborhood helper expressed gratitude for the daily interactions he has.

“The love that I receive on that corner? You just can’t buy it,” Childress told CNN. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • AlanE
    Posted: Thu, 10/24/2019 09:27 am

    It's kind of amazing that anyone thinks changing school start times to 8:30 will accomplish anything. Guess what, kids still do sports, still get on their devices and exchange messages, still play instruments, still perform in choir concerts and plays. Changing the start time of school just reorders the time of day all this happens.

    Sports, especially in states other than California, might have to shift to morning practices instead of afternoon/evening, but they will continue happening. It's just a matter of what time of day they're going to happen. Same for every other extra-curricular under the sun. We might have to turn on more lights than in the past (an irony for CA, I suppose), but the practices will go on.

    It's a shame we have to go through all the upheaval to learn what we should already know. But, here we go...

    If we really wanted to make some headway on this problem, maybe parents could limit their kids to one extra-curricular activity at a time and put their collective feet down about practices (whether sports, drama, dance, or music--and I am a high school coach) not taking more than two hours of a kids' day. I'm not holding my breath for that to happen, though. Even more far-fetched is the prospect of getting parents to limit social media time. That one may be beyond help at this point.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Sat, 10/26/2019 09:13 am

    Why wouldn't it change something? Surely there are some teens who aren't completely overbooked with activities who will get more sleep as a result.

  • AlanE
    Posted: Wed, 10/30/2019 02:23 pm

    Laura W, probably for a week or so, yes, then people just simply adjust their to-sleep time to the new wake-up time. If people go to bed at midnight for a 6 AM wake-up, they'll start going to bed at 1 AM for a 7 AM wake-up in very little time, the vast majority of them. The twice-annual shifting between Daylight Savings and Standard times provides a nice illustration of that. All the motivations to cut sleep time to the minimum "survivable" amount are still in place--none of those have changed. Devices will see to it that they stay up that late. And, as mentioned before, all the kids with activities will just shuffle the times of day they do those activities.

    Posted: Thu, 10/24/2019 11:55 am

    I dunno... farm kids been getting up before the sun and succeeding in school for eons...

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Sat, 10/26/2019 03:06 pm

    I speak as an adult who was severely sleep deprived in my teen years. When in high school, for one reason and another, I rarely fell asleep before 12:00 or 12:30 midnight, and my alarm woke me at 5:00 a.m. so I could be in my seat for physics class, which began just past 7:00 a.m. The symptoms described in the World article above suited me to a "T." What I find encouraging in the actions of California's State Board of Education is that they demonstrate awareness of the difficulties some (or many) teens face physically and emotionally in navigating today's difficult world. Even as a senior citizen, I find that my emotions, energy, and physical well-being are helped a great deal when I know that I get to sleep in without pressure in the early morning hours. Just one last thought--I'll bet that in the "eons" that farmers have been rising before dawn (and God bless the farmers!), they weren't burning the midnight candle. Life and wakefulness pretty much shut down soon after the sun set. Today's society is not structured like that.