Push Back Start Times of CMS High Schools

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Students have always complained about being tired, but there is constant debate over who is at fault.  Many teachers and parents have suggested that students “just go to bed earlier,” but it isn't quite that simple. Teens are biologically geared towards going to bed later, and school systems do not do enough to combat the issue of sleep deprivation in teenagers which results in negative health effects and is detrimental to academic performance. The school systems are at fault for knowingly requiring students to come to school and wake up at a time that is simply unhealthy and counterproductive to the school’s purpose, which is to provide an effective learning environment for our nation’s students.

School is supposed to be a place for students to learn, but by starting so early, school systems are making it harder for students to be able to do their job. This is not an issue that is isolated to a few states or even just a few parts of the country. According to the CDC, “Fewer than 1 in 5 middle and high schools in the U.S. began the school day at recommended 8:30 A.M. start time or later during the 2011-2012 school year,” additionally, “42 states reported that 75-100 percent of the public schools in their respective states started before 8:30 A.M.” ("Most US Middle and High Schools Start the School Day Too Early"). According to Janet Croft of CDC, schools in the U.S. “start at such an early time that most teens are essentially brain dead when they go to these early classes.” Croft stated that because of this, students essentially start their day as, “walking zombies” (Yeager). Students can not be expected to learn while “brain dead.” Schools need to start later in order to allow students time to wake up at a more natural time and get a healthy amount of sleep, which would not only improve learning, but also the health of american teens.

Americans as a whole are undeniably some of the unhealthiest people in the world yet the school systems early start times are setting american teens up to be just as unhealthy, if not more unhealthy than their parents. A lack of sleep at night has been linked to higher levels of: obesity, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, illegal drugs, and depressive symptoms, all in addition to poor academic performance ("Most US Middle and High Schools Start the School Day Too Early"). This is all rather counter productive to the purpose of school. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development states that, “The main purpose of the American school is to provide for the fullest possible development of each learner for living morally, creatively, and productively in a democratic society” (1991). Despite this impressive statement, students who are not getting enough sleep are doing more drugs, drinking more alcohol, and smoking more tobacco, which is not “living morally” or living “productively in a democratic society.” Even when presented with this information, school systems may feel that this is not their responsibility, and students should just go to bed earlier. However, it is not quite that easy.

Teens are going through many shifts such as having their first job or driving their first car as they become adults. Another shift thats teens make as they become adults is a shift in their circadian rhythm which is basically an internal clock  that tells people when to go to sleep and when to wake up. This shift makes it so that teens have difficulty falling asleep before 10:30 P.M. or 11 P.M. when they are trying to go to sleep at night (Yeager). The circadian rhythm works by making people start to get sleepy some time in the afternoon and the urges get stronger as the night goes on until we fall asleep. This cycle can be thrown off by not getting enough sleep or not enough good sleep, which causes people to then fall asleep at the wrong times, like during class, at work, or while driving ("Sleep and Teens"). Fortunately, this cycle can be reset by blue light entering our eyes which is emitted by the morning sky; unfortunately, students are typically on a bus or already in class during peak morning hours (Gaidos).

Students generally wake up around 6:30 A.M., many without getting enough sleep. However the majority of high school seniors go to bed after 11 P.M. on school nights ("Summary of Findings" 1-76). This means that if they were to go to bed at 11:30 P.M., while some go to bed later, and they were to wake up at 6:30 A.M., while some wake up earlier, they would only have slept for 7 hours that night, while the CDC recommends that teens get 8.5 to 9.5 hours each night ("Most US Middle and High Schools Start the School Day Too Early"). This means that the average high school senior misses out on 7.5 to 12.7 hours of sleep each school week, and in an 180 day school year an average student could miss out on as much as 450 hours of sleep. Students need sleep to be able perform at their full potential in order to get the most out of a school day, but students simply are unable to do that when they are too tired to stay awake in class.

Some may claim that pushing school start times back would push school end times back which would not allow enough time for extracurricular activities, homework, and a job. However, this is a very weak argument considering that student’s health and safety should be the school’s number one priority, and students need sleep in order to be healthy and safe.  This is why it is the responsibility of the schools to allow students to get more sleep by implementing later start times. Additionally, students who have a lot to do after school could still wake up earlier or go to bed later to finish homework or participate in extracurricular activities since they will now have more time, so these students will not lose sleep.

It is said that pushing back start times would just encourage students to stay up later. While this may be the case for some students, pushing start times back would allow the average student to at least have the opportunity to get more sleep.  Since it is biologically unnatural for the typical teen to be going to sleep earlier than around 10:30 P.M. on a regular basis, even the students who do not stay up irresponsibly late are at risk of sleep deprivation with current start times. If later start times were implemented it would not hurt anyone and it would help many.

It is common knowledge that teens are at a much higher risk to be involved in an automobile accident than the average driver. However, sleep deprived teens are at an even higher risk of being involved an accident. A study in Australia of roughly 19,000 newly licensed drivers asked the teens about their sleeping habits when they received their license. The report kept track of the drivers for 2 years and found that 9.4 percent of those who got 6 or less hours of sleep each night were involved in a crash. In contrast, only 6.9 percent of driver who got more than six hours of sleep at night were involved in a crash (Rettner). These statistics clearly show the effects of sleep deprivation on driving ability. Teen driver are already at such high risk of being involved in a car accident that school systems should do anything in their power to prevent these accidents, and this is certainly within their power.

I included a graph above which demonstrates the correlation between school start times and crash rates of teen drivers. The crash rates of teen drivers per 1000 teen drivers aged 16 to 18 in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, which are two very similar cities in southern Virginia, were tracked over the course of a year. The major difference between the two cities is the start times of their schools. High schools in Virginia Beach start at 7:25 A.M. and get out at 2 P.M., while high schools in Chesapeake begin at either 8:40 A.M. or 8:45 A.M. and end at 3 P.M. or 3:43 P.M. depending on the specific school. This data demonstrates that students who go to schools that start earlier than the suggested start time have a much higher risk of getting into a crash than those who go to schools that start after the suggested start time. Furthermore, it demonstrates that the Virginia Beach school district is at fault for the higher crash rate. If Virginia Beach started school later like Chesapeake, their students would be much safer.

“Schools that have a start time of 8:30 AM or later allow adolescent students the opportunity to get the recommended amount of sleep on school nights: about 8.5 to 9.5 hours,” ("Most US Middle and High Schools Start the School Day Too Early"). Yet high school students in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, one of the largest districts in the country,  have to be in class by 7:15 A.M., over an hour earlier than the recommended time by the CDC. Some students arrive at the school by 5:45 A.M. just to fight for a parking spot. Additionally, many students have classrooms without windows, so they are unable to see the sunrise in the morning. This is detrimental to the student’s circadian rhythm, which I discussed earlier, by denying their eyes the morning’s blue light that is necessary to reset the rhythm. This is not aided by the fact that classes last for 90 minutes, making it very easy for students to lose focus during  class and fall asleep. Despite all the facts pointing towards later start times, many districts, including CMS, refuse to make not only their students academic ability - but their health and safety - a priority. This is rather ironic, considering the purpose of schools is to teach students effectively and schools will generally say that their student’s safety is their first priority.

In conclusion, schools seem to be going nowhere when it comes to make sure that their students are not deprived of such a basic necessity such as sleep. With evidence continuing to mount that shows the negative effects of sleep deprivation, school districts can no longer act like they do not know the effects or they are not significant. School districts need to be held responsible and change is necessary in order to provide the safest and most effective environment in which to teach our nation’s youth.


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