Just over five years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement urging school districts to push back school start times for junior high and high schools to 8:30 a.m., at the earliest.
The American Medical Association adopted a similar policy in June 2016, supporting the AAP’s position and calling on school districts to adopt later start times for teenagers.
Schools in Davis, Ogden and Weber districts still start well before 8:30 a.m., with some schools in Davis district starting as early as 7:30 a.m., like Davis and Farmington high schools.
High Schools in Ogden and Weber tend to start slightly later.
In Ogden School District, Ben Lomond and Ogden High School start at 7:45 a.m. George Washington High School starts at 8 a.m.
High schools in Weber School District also start at 7:40 or 7:45 a.m.
Many high schools have “late start” days where students come later once a week to accommodate teacher meetings. For example, Weber High has late start on Mondays, when students start classes at 8:20 a.m.
Jessica Knable’s teenage sons, age 16 and 17, both attend Roy High School. They both play football and have part-time jobs that they work mostly on the weekends. Knable’s younger son will start wrestling soon.
Knable also has a 10-year-old daughter.
“They’re exhausted,” Knable said, about her sons. “I think that if they were able to have that extra half hour or 45 minutes that my daughter has in the morning that she doesn’t necessarily need, that would be very beneficial for them.”
Knable said that her family has lived in California and Washington, and the districts they attended in both states had later start times for high school students than for elementary students.
Having her daughter start school earlier would work better for Knable and her family. Her daughter isn’t allowed to be at school earlier than 8:15 a.m., which is later than many parents have to be at work.
Knable’s husband leaves work to take their daughter to school. He works 12-hour shifts starting at about 6:30 a.m. as a manager at Les Schwab Tire Center in Roy. Because he’s a manager, he has the flexibility to leave work and take their daughter to school, Knable said.
If he couldn’t do that, Knable would have to find a way to, and she also works as a legal secretary for Weber County.
The AAP statement on adolescent sleep, published in the September 2014 issue of the journal Pediatrics, reviews research that shows that the “average teenager in today’s society has difficulty falling asleep before 11:00 p.m. and is best suited to wake at 8:00 a.m. or later.”
Teens also need as much sleep as they did before puberty, about 8.5 to 9.5 hours, according to the statement.
According to an AMA press release, only 32% of teenagers get at least eight hours of sleep on an average school night.
Moving school start times for junior high and high schools back to 8:30 a.m. would have positive effect on several aspects of teen health, including physical and mental health, safety academic performance and quality of life, according to the AAP policy statement.
Lack of sleep leads to “depressed mood, deficits in learning, attention and memory problems, poor impulse control, academic performance deficits, an increased risk of fall-asleep motor vehicle crashes, and an elevated risk of obesity, hypertension, and long-term cardiovascular morbidity” among adolescents, the statement says.
According to AAP, the average teenager in the United States is pathologically sleepy, which means they “experience levels of sleepiness commensurate with those of patients with sleep disorders such as narcolepsy.”
What schools are doing
Ogden Superintendent Rich Nye has been in a conversation about school start times as recently as the past month, said Jer Bates, communications director for Ogden School District, in an email.
The issue has also been discussed among administration and the Ogden Board of Education, Bates said.
“Changing these start times could have a ripple effect that extends far beyond the classroom, taking into account before and after school extra-curricular activities and programs, transportation and parent and student work schedules,” Bates said. “If a significant change to school start times were to be made, it should include significant discussion and planning involving all community stakeholders.”
Lane Findlay, community relations specialist with Weber School District, said in an email that there have been discussions among Weber district leadership about the issue, but no formal proposals have been made to change the start times of secondary schools.
In Weber’s case, elementary start times may need to be delayed rather than moved earlier, which could cause difficulty with parent work schedules.
“Transportation is probably one of the biggest factors,” Findlay said. “Having everyone start at the same time would require us to drastically increase the number of buses in our fleet.”
Weber has not received requests to delay school start times from a large number of secondary students or their parents, Findlay said.
“We realize that modifying the schedule may be a benefit to some, but it could also be a detriment to many others,” Findlay said. “In a district of nearly 33,000 students, we do our best to accommodate all families the best we can.”
Davis School District, which has slightly earlier start times for its high schools than Ogden and Weber districts do, actually convened a task force in May 2015 to consider moving back secondary school start times, less than a year after AAP released its statement.
When the issue was first discussed in May 2015, Davis board members and district leadership at the time were sympathetic to the issue, which was proposed by a parent.
“I think there are solutions to the problems,” said then Superintendent Dr. W. Bryan Bowles, at the board workshop meeting in May 2015, as recorded in the district’s “Board Briefs” newsletter.
“If part of my role as a superintendent is to advise and make recommendations,” Bowles continued, “I think it would be irresponsible for our district not to take the discussion about sleep time very seriously. We’ve kind of said, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ for a long time and haven’t really seriously sat down and said ‘what can we do to make this work and find solutions?’”
The Davis task force, composed of teachers, administrators, other school personnel and parents, proposed more than one scenario for shifting back secondary school start times to the Davis school board in October 2015.
The task force’s “cons” for the scenarios that allowed for later secondary school start times included that student athletes, coaches and administrators could miss more school because the school day would overlap with sports schedules and that teachers with second jobs could have trouble getting to them.
Under one scenario, elementary students would have to catch buses as early as 6:50 a.m., when it’s dark during the winter. Younger children would also be home earlier in the afternoon, with no older siblings to watch them.
Under another scenario, the cost of busing would increase.
However, the board ultimately went ahead with exploring delaying school start times by offering pilot programs that students at Northridge and Woods Cross high schools could elect to participate in during the 2016-2017 academic year, but not enough students signed up to run the pilot.
The pilot programs would have allowed the group of students to start school at 9 a.m., but would require them to stay until 4 p.m., said Chris Williams, director of communications and operations for the district.
“A lot of students are all for late starts,” Williams said. “But they’re not necessarily for staying extra time.”