WEST CHESTER (August 27, 2019) – With many schools returning to session this week, some middle and high school students may find themselves struggling to rise and shine when the first bell rings. Others are already enjoying a few more extra minutes of shuteye compared to last year.
Meanwhile, the question of instituting later secondary school start times is the subject of a soon-to-be-released report by a special Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission (JSGC) advisory committee.
The committee, established by legislation introduced by Dinniman, is expected to release its report by mid-October. Under Senate Resolution 417, the study will include an assessment of the health, academic and safety benefits associated with them, as well as any potential negative impacts.
“We know that a good night’s sleep is the foundation for a productive day of learning, growth, and development,” Dinniman, who serves as minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, said. “For our children and teenagers to be focused and ready to reach their highest potential, they need to be well-rested. More and more school districts are starting later and realizing positive results, so it only makes sense to take a closer look at it on the state level.”
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adolescents receive 8 – 10 hours of sleep per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended middle and high schools aim for start times (8:30 a.m. or later) that allow students to receive the recommended amount of sleep.
Furthermore, research shows that adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to decline in academic performance, suffer from physical and mental health problems, experience suicide ideation, and are at an increased risk of being involved in an automobile accident.
Chester County and southeastern Pennsylvania are at the forefront of a movement to institute later school start times for secondary schools, beginning with the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, which shifted the high school start time back to 8 a.m. (from 7:35 a.m.) two years ago.
In addition, at least a half-dozen school districts in southeastern Pennsylvania, including the Owen J. Roberts School District and the West Chester Area School District in Chester County, are taking a serious look at pushing back start times. In fact, the West Chester Area School District is holding an informational meeting, featuring internationally recognized adolescent sleep expert, Dr. Wendy Troxel, on Thursday, September 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Rustin High School.
Dinniman said he expects the advisory committee’s report to present a well-rounded and well-informed analysis of the issue.
“Of course, it’s not always a simple thing to change school start times for thousands of students and families. There are logistical issues involving transportation costs, extracurricular activities, employee schedules, and other matters. That’s why we’re looking at all aspects of this,” he said. “But at the end of the day, if a little more sleep can help improve student performance, health, focus, and mood, it may be a no-brainer. At the very least, our schools, students, and parents ought to fully know and understand the issues at stake.”