Guest editorial: School start time switch should start next year |

Guest editorial: School start time switch should start next year

Wendy M. Troxel, PhD and Maura Hanrahan, MD

On Aug. 23, the Park City School District’s school start times committee presented its final report and recommendations concerning school start times to the Park City School Board and members of the community. The committee’s mission was to review the scientific evidence concerning the impact of early school start times on adolescent sleep and academic, health, and safety outcomes, and to review the evidence from districts around the country who have already instituted or are in the process of instituting start time changes.

The scientific evidence unequivocally shows that early school start times are contributing to an epidemic of sleep deprivation among adolescents, and that sleep deprivation is a significant and urgent public health issue that is impacting teenagers’ ability to learn, their mental and physical health, and our collective public safety. Further, the evidence also shows that when start times are delayed, adolescents not only sleep more, but they also show significant improvements in academic performance, mental and physical health, and safety. In fact, in nearby Teton County School District, after delaying their start time, they found a 70 percent reduction in motor vehicle crashes.

We are gratified that the school board and the superintendent clearly heard this message and responded to the scientific data with a resounding vote in favor of delaying start times to 8:30 a.m. or later for Treasure Mountain Junior High and Park City High School. This vote in favor of later start times is evidence of our school district’s commitment to evidence-based school policy that supports the health, well-being, and academic preparedness of all of our students.

Now it’s time to work together to make this happen, because we all know that it is far too easy for other concerns or challenges that the district is facing (e.g., realignment) to move to the top of the priority list, which could further delay the implementation of the start time change. After eight months of research and deliberation, the committee believes that a one-year timeline for implementation, is highly feasible, and is consistent with the implementation strategy employed by many other districts in the country, including ones much larger than our own, such as Seattle Public Schools.

Board Member Philip Kaplan, in his remarks on KPCW on Aug. 24, already made a compelling case for a clear way forward to adopt a simple “flip” schedule (one of the options included in the committee’s report), in order to make this change feasible for the 2017/2018 year. And Board Member Julie Eihausen made it clear during the meeting that given that this is an “immediate public health issue,” the change should occur next year.

Even with a one-year timeline, we know that the year can slip away before we know it, so we need to act now and support Superintendent Ember Conley as she forms an Implementation Task Force, and encourage the School Board to maintain the urgency to make this happen, so that we have a healthy bell times schedule for 2017/2018 by January 2017 (when master schedules for the district are created for the following year).

Waking up a teen at 6 a.m. is the biological equivalent of waking an adult up at 4 a.m. As I reluctantly woke my own son up at 6 this morning, I promised myself and my son, that this will hopefully be the last year that he and other teenagers in Park City will be forced to wake at a time which is not conducive to healthy minds and bodies.

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