ALBANY -- A survey of local school board members from across New York has found strong support for delaying the start of daily classroom instruction to accommodate the needs of a typical teenager's sleeping cycle.

The state School Boards Association said the random sampling of 378 school board members found that 59 percent signaled they agree that pushing back the school day is an idea with merit, while 28.5 opposed the proposal. Another 12.5 percent had no opinion.

More than half of those who completed the survey said that sleep deprivation among high school students is a significant problem, the association reported.

But many also acknowledged there would be "logistical problems" to reconfiguring the school day, largely having to do with the fact that a later start time could bump into the schedule for interscholastic sports teams and other extra curricular activities.

The politically influential New York State United Teachers, which represents tens of thousands of New York's public school teachers, has not taken a position on the idea, said the union's spokesman, Matt Hamilton.

But Kyle Belokopitsky, president of the New York State Parent Teachers Association, called the proposal for a later start time "intriguing," suggesting the best results would be achieved by having all school districts in a particular region have matching schedules for their school days.

"If you have one school district starting an hour later than another, then how are they going to play their soccer or basketball games?" she asked.

The fact that high school students tend to go to bed later and have to be roused early to get them to school on time can impact what they retain when they get to those morning classes, she said.

"Much of the data has shown that older students generally do better later in the morning," Belokopitsky told CNHI. "I think each school district is going to have to have this conversation with parents and educators."

In a study released last month by Harvard Medical School, researchers stressed that consistent sleep patterns throughout the week, including on weekends, are vital for teenagers.

“Beyond quantity and quality, timing is a vital component of sleep because it determines if an individual’s circadian clock -- the internal sleep/wake schedule -- is synchronized with the rhythms of their daily activities,” Elsie Taveras, a nutrition professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, was quoted as saying in the Harvard Medical report.

That study determined that adolescent sleep patterns can be risk factors for obesity and cardiometabolic health, with the effects greater in girls than in boys.

The school boards' association's interest in promoting later start times dovetails with a national push by an advocacy group called Start School Later. It now has volunteer-led chapters in eight regions of the state.

Citing data collected by Start School Later, the school boards group said 42 high schools in New York now begin their instructional day at 8:15 a.m. or later, with 20 starting at 8:30 a.m. or later. The opening classroom bell rings at scores of other districts before 8 a.m.

Last December, researchers at the University of Washington and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies concluded that teens at high schools in Seattle got more sleep on school nights after classroom bell times were moved to later in the morning, with a median increase of 34 minutes of sleep each night.

Those students were determined to be getting a median of seven hours and 24 minutes of sleep each night under the later start time, when earlier they had been getting six hours and 50 minutes, according to a report published in the journal, Science Advances.

The state School Boards Association has been encouraging districts to review their high school start times for the past three years.

Franklin Academy Principal Brandon Pelkey said there have been no formal discussions in the Malone Central School District about pushing back school start times.

The high school now follows a fairly typical schedule, with the pledge and daily news kicking off the school day at 8:02 a.m. and first period commencing at 8:08 a.m.

But Pelkey recalled that the district used to operate on a split schedule, with elementary students starting their days at 8 a.m. and middle and high schoolers coming in at 9 a.m.

He believes that stopped about 18 or 19 years ago when the buses went to a consolidated run, though he did not recall why exactly.

Pelkey is open to discussing the possibility of a later start time for teenage students.

"Anything that we can do or any conversations that we can have as professionals as it relates to students and student achievement are of great benefit, especially if it’s going to have some sort of a positive impact on students and student performance."

The district should do whatever it can to foster a learning environment and allow students social and emotional support, he added.

"If sleep is one of those requirements that they need, (if) providing them with that extra sleep or that extra time not to have to rush would be some sort of a benefit to the kids, without a doubt."

 

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

— Staff Writer Cara Chapman contributed to this report

 

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