Healthy School Hours in New Canaan
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The signers of this petition are New Canaan parents concerned about the effects of sleep deprivation on our children. We are petitioning the Board of Education (BOE) to change start times in our school system. Specifically, we are requesting that the BOE adopt a schedule that changes start times for grades 7-12 to 8:30 a.m. or later.
Doctors Prescribe a Later Start for Middle and High Schools
In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement that no middle or high school should start before 8:30 a.m. “The evidence is clearly mounting both in terms of understanding the repercussions that chronic sleep loss has on the health, safety and performance of adolescents, and there is also really solid compelling data supporting the fact that delaying school start times is a very important intervention that can mitigate some of the impact of sleep loss,” says Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center and lead author of the report.
In June 2016, the American Medical Association (AMA) also issued a statement that middle and high schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. "Sleep deprivation is a growing public health issue affecting our nation's adolescents, putting them at risk for mental, physical and emotional distress and disorders," said AMA Board Member William E. Kobler, M.D. "Scientific evidence strongly suggests that allowing adolescents more time for sleep at the appropriate hours results in improvements in health, academic performance, behavior, and general well-being. We believe delaying school start times will help ensure middle and high school students get enough sleep, and that it will improve the overall mental and physical health of our nation's young people."
A 6 a.m. Wakeup for an Adolescent is Similar to a 4 a.m. Wakeup for an Adult
Sleep experts have identified a shift in sleep cycles that makes it difficult for most adolescents to fall asleep as early as younger children or older adults. Typical sleep cycles begin around 11 p.m. for teenagers and continue through 8 a.m. Thus, an early school start time directly prevents adolescents from getting the 9 hours of sleep that they need and forces them to wake up in the middle of a deep sleep. Kids forced to wake up too early aren’t just getting too few hours of sleep – they also miss out on REM sleep, which is important for consolidating memories and helping people to remember what they learned that day. REM sleep tends to be concentrated in the last third of the night, or between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. for a typical teen. According to a parent survey conducted in New Canaan in 2006 by the League of Women Voters, 85% of 7th and 8th graders in New Canaan were getting 8 hours or less of sleep a night and 77% of 9th-12th graders were getting 7 hours or less (about one quarter of them got 6 hours). The parents in our town must ask ourselves if it is acceptable that our adolescents are accruing a sleep debt of 10-15 hours per week, week in and week out, for the six years they are in grades 7-12.
High-Performing Districts Are Making the Change Successfully
While a change in school start times may have financial and logistical implications, the medical science on later school start times is clear. Our country’s leading medical organizations have endorsed the policy of moving to later school start times as a public health issue and high-performing school districts across the country are taking action. Locally, Greenwich High School changed its start time to 8:30 a.m. in 2017. Thirty-five Greenwich-area health providers wrote an Open Letter to the Greenwich Board of Education urging it to adopt later school start times. The signatories included the Director of Pediatrics at Greenwich Hospital and pediatricians working at almost all of the leading pediatric practices in Greenwich.
In addition to Greenwich, whose teenagers are now getting an extra hour of sleep, there are current Start School Later discussions taking place in Westport, Ridgefield and other Fairfield County towns. Wilton has been starting later for more than 10 years. The time may be right for a coordinated effort, which can reduce the logistical impact on sports. The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the sole governing body for interscholastic athletics, agrees: “The CIAC believes that high school students should have the opportunity to learn in an optimum learning environment,” (and that) “research shows that switching to later school start times does create a more optimal learning environment and improves student achievement for high school athletes.”
Take Action in New Canaan
We urge the BOE to respect the advice of medical experts, prioritize the health of our students, and vote to move grades 7-12 start time to 8:30 a.m. or later by the 2018-2019 school year. The science is clear, the benefits are clear, and, like many well-regarded school districts in the country that have made this change, we are certain that New Canaan can overcome the disruptions and inconveniences with smart and creative planning.
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