Op-Ed: Opposition to Proposed Change to School Start Times

West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent's Office. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Karen French is a West Hartford resident and owner of Karen French Educational Consulting Services, and is a teacher, tutor, and teacher trainer.

By Karen French

As a parent and private educator in West Hartford, I am opposed to the changes to our current schedule that the Board of Education is considering for school start times.

The proposed schedule being considered may increase sleep for high school students, however the detriments to others make it an undesirable change. Children entering middle school are typically ages 10-11. When they exit middle school, they are typically 14. The NIH (National Institutes of Health) cites multiple studies that all suggest children aged 10-14 require approximately 10-11 hours of sleep. When they are 14, or maybe 13, they dip back toward needing about 9 hours. By backing up the middle school start time, vital sleep hours will be taken away from children in the younger age group.

I have two children currently in elementary and middle school. While I know every family has their idiosyncrasies, I feel our family is fairly diligent about bedtimes and limits the number of activities our children are allowed to participate in after school. My children typically fall asleep sometime between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. each night. We are the last bus stop on the middle school circuit, so my middle schooler is afforded a few more minutes each morning compared to children being picked up earlier. She wakes at 6:50 a.m. each morning to catch the bus at 7:35 a.m.

Currently, every evening we feel a lot of pressure and use our time wisely, to get everybody settled in as early as we can, accommodating appropriate time after school for homework, community events, sports, and eating. There is very little free time. With this scenario, she is getting between 9 hours and 20 minutes of sleep (already too little) and 10 hours and 20 minutes of sleep (just right). Making school earlier is going to move her sleep into the “too little” range every night.

I imagine she is getting more sleep than many middle schoolers in town. What will those children experience in overall health changes should you move middle school start times earlier each morning? And why would we consider improving sleep habits for one age group at the expense of another?

There are only 24 hours in every day. Moving school start times later, doesn’t make more time. It only diminishes time after school to fit everything into the day. This will result in later bedtimes for students across all ages, negating the efforts to give teenagers more sleep. As I consider that my children will be in high school not too long from now, I would love to see a proposal to afford children ages 14-18 more hours of rest, but I firmly believe that we need to make cultural shifts in our lives above moving school to start later in the day. A bit less homework, less over scheduling, and less access to technology would be preferable and more consequential adjustments to our lives. Our town leaders are responsible for being outspoken and leading change in these arenas, too.

Thank you for considering my thoughts. I am truly confident that you will realize the proposed school schedule changes will negatively affect our adults, children, and teenagers overall.

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