Citing a “public health crisis of epidemic proportions” regarding American adolescents not getting enough sleep, an advisory committee convened by Pennsylvania’s Joint State Government Commission has ample support from medical authorities for later school start times, particularly for high school students.
However, the committee, in a report released Thursday, did not call for a statewide adoption of initiatives already underway in several of the Commonwealth’s 500 districts or for the creation of a pilot program.
Rather, the lengthy document is more of a resource for districts considering changing their start times. The committee encouraged local schools to collect data on their own experiences, while acknowledging the considerable body of research supporting later-starting school days.
“Sleep health literacy is an important component of any school health curriculum,” the report stated.
The committee’s recommendations, based on the findings of groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and other health organizations, include:
The ideal start time for secondary school students — grades six though 12 — is 8:30 a.m. or later. The majority of Pennsylvania schools start their days between 7:30 a.m. and 7:59 a.m.
Insufficient sleep has far-reaching implications, including diminished school performance, more athletic injuries and automobile accidents, compromised physical health, and adverse impacts on mental health, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
The report summarizes some of the later-start initiatives already underway or being considered in Pennsylvania, as well as other states. Although only a handful of Pennsylvania districts at the time of the research had uniform school starting times of 8:30 a.m. or later, about 100 other districts started after 8 a.m. And between 2011 and 2019, 26 districts delayed their secondary school start times.
In addition, the committee found that at least 28 public school districts were reviewing delaying secondary school start times due to student sleep concerns.
This school year, Radnor High School moved its 7:35 a.m. start time to 8:30 a.m.
“We have received positive feedback from our high school students,” said district spokesperson Michael Petitti, adding that the district is “working to further educate our students and community on the importance of a good night’s sleep and related healthy sleep strategies.”
» READ MORE: Pushing back school times so teens can sleep later
In the coming months, Radnor district officials plan to survey families on their experiences with the change, he said. Meanwhile, school community members have been invited to give feedback at email@example.com.
This summer, New Jersey state education officials announced plans to embark on an earlier-start pilot program and sought high schools willing to take part.
Previous proposals for later start times in the Garden State were met with push back for many of the same reasons in other states, including problems with transportation arrangements, adverse impacts on working parents, conflicts with student work schedules, and extracurricular activities.