EDITORIAL: Push now for later school start times

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PHOTOGRAPHER:

You’re probably noticing it already.

Their eyes half open. Shoulders slumped. Dragging their backpacks on the ground as they shuffle their way to the bus stop, the sun barely in the sky.

If you believe your teenager is primed for learning at that time of day and in that condition, educators and health professionals will tell you different.

Yet two thirds of high schools in the state start classes before 8 a.m., a situation that not only threatens academic performance, but their overall health.

That’s why lawmakers should consider a bill pending in the state Assembly as a jumping-off point for vigorous discussion on starting classes later in the day for New York middle- and high school students.

The bill, A8202, would amend state education law to require that public schools in New York start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. As an incentive, the bill would mandate that schools that opted for earlier starts would be subject to a loss in state aid.

Obviously, it’s too late to do anything about the early starts this school year.

But lawmakers should consider pushing for the shift now and working with state education officials, superintendents, school boards, parents and others to find ways to enact this statewide next year.

The issue, of course, is more complex than simply sending out the buses later.

There are issues with the length of the school day, coordinating bus and class schedules for different grades and different school buildings, adjusting class schedules and time between classes to squeeze more learning time into the day, the conundrum of including enough learning time so student-athletes playing outdoor sports can get on the field for practice and games before it gets dark, and likely some union-related issues for teachers and staff.

But later start times for classes needs to be part of the discussion.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that insufficient sleep in adolescents adversely affects their health and learning ability.

Kids in middle-school and high school need an average of 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night to ensure their physical and mental health, to fend off depression, improve safety and ensure their brains are functioning at the optimal levels to learn. But most high school seniors only get 7 hours of sleep or less, putting them at risk of sleep-deprivation related problems.

Research indicates that the average teenager has difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m. and is best suited to wake at 8 a.m. or later. Earlier school start times has been found to be a significant contributor and one that can most easily be altered.

California mandated 8:30 a.m. school starts two years ago, and other states are seriously considering doing the same.

For the health and well-being of our kids, and to give them the best chance at academic success, New York needs to figure out how to implement it in our schools.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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