HARRISBURG—The results of a comprehensive sleep study advocating for the delay of secondary school start times were released this week. The study was conducted by a special Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission (JSGC) advisory committee.
In Chester County, the Unionville-Chadds Ford and Phoenixville school districts have switched over to a delayed school start. West Chester and Owen J. Roberts are considering it.
The report highlights that delaying secondary school start times has the “greatest potential to impact large numbers of students at the same time,” giving students more time to sleep, and helping prevent the health concerns brought with sleep deprivation.
This marks the first time Pennsylvania has studied this issue, and includes an assessment of the health, academic and safety benefits associated with delaying secondary school start times, as well as the costs associated with this change.
It was established under Senate Resolution 417, legislation introduced by Sen. Andy Dinniman that unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee last fall.
Dinniman said the findings should serve as a guide for school districts that are looking at pushing back their start times.
“The research demonstrates that many high school students are sleep deprived and that lack of sleep negatively impacts their emotional health, learning, and overall well-being. The question now is one of implementation in terms of cost, logistics and scheduling changes,” Dinniman, who serves as the Minority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, said. “This report clearly outlines routes to change their policies, and addresses solutions to concerns that could come with delaying school start times.”
This report reviews commonly perceived challenges that could be encountered in efforts to delay secondary school start times, including instructional school day requirements, transportation (including bus driver shortages), transportation mandates, coordination and logistics, athletics and other extracurricular activities, impacts on elementary school students and families and impact on teachers and staff.
Dinniman also said he hopes questions about pushing back school start times are taken into consideration as part of a larger discussion on the future of public secondary and post-secondary education.
“This needs to be seen in relationship to the rethinking and revision of the institution of high school as we know it today. We now have dual enrollment, hybrid learning, and experiential learning programs in our high schools,” he said. “As we prepare students for competitive careers in the new economy, start times should be part of that larger conversation.”
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that adolescents receive 8 to 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.
The majority of Pennsylvania’s school districts have start times between 7:30 a.m. and 7:59 a.m. A few of its 500 school districts have secondary start times of 8:30 a.m. or later. Overall, charter schools and nonpublic schools have slightly later secondary school start times, but few meet the 8:30 a.m. or later goal.
This report identifies 25 school districts that delayed their secondary school start times during the period 2011-2019. An additional 28 districts were found to be publicly engaged in researching the matter, and at least 15 more self-identified as having had informal discussions on the topic.
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.
Recently, other school districts in the region have followed suit, including the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District, the Phoenixville Area School District, and the Radnor School District.
In addition, at least a half-dozen school districts in southeastern Pennsylvania, including the Owen J. Roberts School District, Council Rock School District, Lower Merion School District, Upper Merion School District, Pennsbury School District, and the West Chester Area School District in Chester County, are taking a serious look at pushing back start times.