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Letter to the Editor: Healthier School Start Times

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To the Editor,

I am a 22-year resident of West Hartford, a public school parent, the spouse of a volunteer youth sports coach, and a family physician.

In its policy statement entitled “School Start Times for Adolescents” the American Academy of Pediatrics states: “… the evidence strongly implicates earlier school start times … as a key modifiable contributor to insufficient sleep, as well as circadian rhythm disruption. … Furthermore, a substantial body of research has now demonstrated that delaying school start times is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss and has a wide range of potential benefits to students … The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports the efforts of school districts to optimize sleep in students and urges high schools and middle schools to aim for start times that allow students the opportunity to achieve optimal levels of sleep …” (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/134/3/642)

I have known about the shift in circadian rhythm that goes on naturally in puberty and adolescence for many years and was so heartened to see our town was examining school start times again, as many towns across the country have been. When I saw that a robust Rethinking School Start Times Committee was formed and that the wealth of scientific information in favor of later start times was effectively communicated to the Board, I was reassured. My concern is that there may be some misinformation circulating in the broader community and that some people may be viewing the potential change in start times in a vacuum. My hope is that the Board of Education, our school administrators, and our community leaders can objectively look at the data and together we can harness our creativity and problem-solving skills as a community to do what is best for our children.

I am very supportive of youth sports in this town, high school sports and extracurricular clubs and activities. My older one enjoyed and engaged in them, and my younger one still does. I am extremely appreciative of our teachers and coaches. I recognize what challenging jobs they have and what an immense resource they are to our children. I understand that many people who rely on the early start and the early end times to our public schools are resistant to a change in the start times, but I don’t think healthier start times and after school activities are mutually exclusive. Certainly if one system-wide change is made without engaging the leaders and decision-makers of all the other facets of the system to figure out a way to make it work, there could be problems. But that is not what a cohesive and highly functioning town like ours does, in my opinion.

The Rethinking School Start Times Committee, the open public fora, the multiple Board of Education meetings, the surveys, and the email opportunities were set up to get the facts out and to hear all the concerns of people in the community. If the conclusion by the Board is (as is my conclusion) that moving start times is the right thing to do, then as a community we can work together to make it successful. Again, let’s harness the creativity and problem-solving skills of our officials and community leaders.

I think that together we can make it work. Thank you.

Elizabeth Freedman
West Hartford

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