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Columbia Public School District: Don't make our most vulnerable children go home to empty houses. Don't start middle schools at 7 a.m.

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Puberty is a very trying time for young adolescents. It is a time in which hormonal changes and body changes are raging through our children. The amount of growth that occurs during these times requires significant amounts of sleep. Teens and preteens with learning disabilities suffer even more when they are robbed of this necessary sleep.

The Columbia School District has recently decided to move middle school start times to 7 a.m., elementary starting times to 7:40 a.m. and high school starting times to 9 a.m. Middle schools currently start at 8 a.m. In order to catch the bus at 7:30 my son has to get up at 6 in the morning. If start times are moved to 7 he will be forced to get up at 5:30 in the morning to catch the bus at 6:30. Most adults do not have to rise so early to go to work. He will also be getting out of school at 2 p.m. While this is not a problem for me, as a stay at home mom, it will leave a multitude of 11-14 year old children at home alone for 2-3 hours. I can say, as a former latch-key kid myself, that I did a multitude of things I shouldn't have when I was that age and left alone (Including starting smoking at the tender age of 11).

The Columbia School District does have other choices, such as starting elementary kids the earliest. Having after-school care provided on site (via a program called Adventure Club) a 2 p.m. release would be less of a problem for elementary school kids and their parents. Also, having these children start early would eliminate the need for before school care, since currently elementary kids do not start school until 9 and most parents have to be at work by 8 or earlier.

If that is not acceptable for them then the other alternative is starting high school kids at 7. Most high school kids have after school jobs. A large amount of them also have after school activities they participate in and a larger amount of homework to do. Getting out of school earlier will not be as much of a burden because most high school kids are independent enough to be at home alone and look after themselves. Starting school earlier will also prepare them for the reality of life ahead of them. It would also be beneficial to gradually have kids going to school earlier and earlier, rather than taking them from getting up at 7:30 in the morning to getting up at 5:30 in the morning to get to school.

Either of these two options make much more sense than forcing emotionally vulnerable children coping with puberty and massive body changes to: rise before dawn, go to school completely exhausted, and go home to an empty house. I strongly fear that if the current changes to the start times are put into practice my son, and others with learning disabilities, will go from being good students to failing students.

Please do not allow the Columbia Public School District to harm our most vulnerable children. Kids going through puberty have enough to be worried about, being exhausted should not be another worry for them. It is mentally and physically essential that these kids get the rest that they need to learn, grow, and be productive. These important years are where they will gain their sense of self, solidify their academic rigor, and fortify their personalities. The Columbia Public School District is essentially setting these kids up to fail by refusing to take their physiological changes into account before making these vital decisions.

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