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% signaled they agree that pushing back the school day is an idea with merit, while 28.5 opposed the proposal. Another 12.5% 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 extracurricular 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.
Eben Bullock, superintendent of Sidney Central Schools, said the district hadn’t given much thought to delaying the start of the school day.
“We have really good daily attendance for our students K-12,” he said. “It’s not really something that’s been discussed.”
If the district were to adopt later start times, Bullock said it would face contractual issues with the teachers’ union, which mandates its members work pre-determined hours.
Bullock said a later start time would conflict with after-school commitments like clubs, sports practice and part-time jobs.
“Kids are tired, for sure,” said Bullock, who served as high school principal for 10 years prior to his appointment as superintendent. “The older ones especially run a tough schedule.”
Jack Etter, superintendent of the Gilboa-Conesville Central School District, agreed that later start times are not a priority.
“We’re in a farming community, so most of my kids are up at 5 anyway,” he said.
The subject came up at a recent meeting of all the school superintendents in Schoharie County, Etter said, but the administrators agreed that state testing procedures, students vaping and other matters were more pressing.
“Everybody’s talking about it, but nothing’s really happening,” he said. “A lot more conversation has to happen before anybody can act.”
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff Writer Sarah Eames contributed to this story. Contact her at email@example.com or 607-441-7213.