High school students across Massachusetts might soon get more sleep.
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Report, Massachusetts has one of the earliest start times for secondary students in the Nation. The majority of schools in the state start before 7:30 a.m.; Nipmuc’s first bell rings at 7:25 a.m. NHS students who take the bus may have to be at their stop by 6:30 a.m. and some students have to walk a distance to their stop.
At Monday night’s school committee meeting Superintendent Dr. Joseph P. Maruszczak presented two recent reports and discussed the pros and cons of pushing back start times for the High School. The district is not alone in this discussion as several district are weighing the benefits of making a change; the state’s legislature is also mulling a bill to study the issues.
Studies completed by the American Academy and the Center for Disease Control find developing teens need anywhere from 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep. Nipmuc Regional High School Principal John Clement’s said at Monday night’s meeting a recent survey of his students found the majority were only getting , on average, approximately 5 hours a night.
It was found that teens who don’t get the recommended hours of sleep have a difficult time paying attention, have deficits in learning and academic achievements, develop unhealthy eating habits, are less physically active, have increased risk of being involved in car accidents, and the lack of sleep is linked to anxiety and depression.
The American Academy and CDC recommend all middle and high school’s should aim for a start time no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and bus routes should be taken into consideration. They also recommend removing electronic devices from the bedroom, education of healthy sleep habits, and eliminating other factors that contribute to chronic sleep deprivation.
Maruszczak said this ties into homework and assessment reasonableness which was a topic that should also be considered.
The biggest challenge the district would face in having a later start time is busing. The district is working on a three-tier busing system and legally is obligated to provide a seat for every child who is within the busing zones. Nipmuc starts at 7:25 a.m., Miscoe 8:25 a.m. and Memorial/Clough at 9:15 a.m.
“Conceivably you can go down to two tiers and have the high school and middle school start at the same time. Potentially you are looking at an additional cost,” Maruszczak said.
Maruszczak noted there are complications beyond busing. “Many parents rely on high school students getting home first to look after younger siblings, there is the issue of after school athletics. Then we do have a decent amount of kids who have after school employment,” he said. “There are also contractual obligations. Just the change in process in general, you are changing a well-established paradigm.”
Maruszczak suggested a committee could be formed to look into to this further, to determine what the stakeholder would want.
Clements said during two mock town hall meetings, which took place during the 21 Century Learning Conference, the juniors and seniors debated moving their start time to 9: 15 a.m. and overwhelming the group decided against a later start time. Clements was surprised at the result, “I expected them to jump all over the change. I see them coming in drowsy, often times clutching a coffee,” he said.
Jay Byer, Director of Finance & Operations, was the moderator at the Mock Town Meeting and said it was an interesting conversation. “The thing that got said the most is if kids got to sleep later they would just go to bed later. They would lose out on their work time.”
Member Leigh Martin gave a different perspective. “At the MASC meeting I went to several studies were presented by a parent who is a doctor that said brain science indicates that kids above the age of puberty cannot go to bed before and sleep well before 11 p.m. Additionally delay in start times doesn’t equal staying up later,” she said.
“Studies show it actually doubles the amount of kids getting at least 8 hours of sleep at night. Although anecdotally people may say that the science doesn’t support it. When you look at the science it’s incontrovertible. There is no reason scientifically not to do this, it’s a matter of logistics. That’s where the details have to be ironed out,” Martin said.
She also added, “Sleeping in on the weekends is essentially the same as jet lag, it takes them three days to get back into a regular sleep cycle. Binge sleeping is adding to the issues.”
Member Diane Duncan said she thinks a task force to review making a change would be a great idea. “Pragmatically this is going to create a ton of issues, especially with childcare issues. I don’t see this is as something that’s feasible for next year.” She does think the district should look at it.
Maruszczak asked what would be an ideal start time. Clements responded, “I think listening to the kids 9 a.m. would be too late, it would be important to find middle ground.”
“The biggest challenge is going to be managing the bus routes, you have to figure out how to manage your bus routes so that you don’t double the cost of transportation,” Byer said.
“We can form a committee. We could crunch numbers and figure out what could be feasible,” Duncan said.
The topic of conversation was left there.
….what do you think