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School Start Times Under Review for Howard County Schools

What is the relationship between start times and student well-being?

Teenagers need about nine hours of sleep per night, according to the Mayo Clinic. With Howard County high schools starting at 7:25 a.m., how likely is it that students are arriving to school well rested, healthy and prepared for the day ahead?

In a statement released this week, the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) announced it will be taking a “comprehensive look at the opening time of schools and the impact that an early opening has on the health and well-being of high school students." 

It’s a topic that has been on the agendas of school boards from California to Wisconsin and throughout Maryland.

In Howard County, Superintendent Renee Foose said the topic emerged as a concern during forums she held last fall. 

For Howard County students, high school begins at 7:25 a.m. Middle school start times range from 7:40 a.m. to 8:25 a.m. and elementary school start times range from 8:15 a.m. to 9:25 a.m.

“Students and parents alike inquired about the continued rationale for starting high schools earliest and elementary schools later,” Foose said in the statement. “From a practical stand point, I heard that the high school start time is contributing to sleepy adolescents and the elementary start times often cause daycare issues for parents.” 

Foose said the study will also look at the impact of any potential schedule changes on collective bargaining agreements, after school activities, transportation, and the HCPSS operating budget.   

School Board Member Janet Siddiqui advocated for a study looking at the relationship between school start times, sleep habits and student achievement. “Students must come to school well-rested if they are going to be ready for learning,” she said in the statement. 

The study will be conducted by HCPSS staff, according to a spokesperson.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports “sleep-related education, research and advocacy,” according to its mission statement, students are “unable to maximize the learning opportunities afforded to them by the education system, since sleep deprivation impairs their ability to be alert, pay attention solve problems, cope with stress and retain information.”

Ellicott City Patch readers last year had their say on the matter – some suggesting that a later start time would interfere with sports schedules, others or that staggering schedules might mean some schools let out close to rush hour. 

What do you think? Should high schools start later in the day to accommodate teenagers’ natural sleep cycles? Tell us in the comments.

Related:

- How Early is Too Early to Head to Class?

- POLL: Should Howard County Schools Start Later? 

Frank in Elkridge January 30, 2013 at 07:22 PM
I am pleasantly surprised that the school district has finally decided to take a serious look at this issue. The late start time for elementary school kids is problematic for working parents. We need to have childcare for our kids in the morning because school buses arrive much later than when we have to be at work. Even if one parent is at home, younger kids typically go to bed earlier and wake up earlier than teenagers. If they are already up anyway, why not send them to school? I never understood why high school students should have to be at bus stops at 7 AM. It's true that many have after-school activities so the early schedule allows more flexibility in the afternoon. That could be reversed. Students who chose to get to school early can participate in before-school activities, while regular classes start at a more reasonable time like 9:00 - 9:30.
Maribel Ibrahim January 30, 2013 at 09:31 PM
School start times have been an issue in many localities for quite some time. Bear in mind that it is not a trivial matter of preference, convenience or budgets that are at stake here. Early school start times are creating a nation of sleep deprived students. Sadly, we as a society do not regard sleep as an important enough issue to set healthy standards for. As a result, children are sent to school during dark, unsafe morning hours and against their biological sleep need. Many of the arguments against healthy school start times revolve around sports schedules, other activities and everything else except for what the school scheduling should prioritize - maximizing every opportunity for our students to be given the best chance to LEARN. For more information on the need for evidenced based safeguards when it comes to school scheduling, please visit www.StartSchoolLater.net This organization was started in Anne Arundel County last year. We are now a natoinally recognized clearinghouse on the issue of school start times and now have a brand new local chapter in Howard County, Regards, Maribel Ibrahim Co-Founder, www.StartSchoolLater.net
Stacy Simera January 30, 2013 at 11:46 PM
Good thinking, Frank! A lot of experts recommend that elementary start before middle/high school since the younger kids are biochemically wired to be up earlier. During puberty our adolescents experience a temporary 90-minute later shift in their sleep cycle - which is why the national recommendations have been made to start middle/high school later - and why schools around the nation have already made changes. Good to see your school looking at this! Love your 'pleasantly surprised' comment!
Pat Brown January 31, 2013 at 11:33 AM
This has been reviewed in the past and the HS start early to allow time for after school jobs and sports practices. It would be nice to allow the teenagers more sleep time. Perhaps this time around it'll work!
Anne Gonnella January 31, 2013 at 02:09 PM
I hope they are also looking at homework as a factor. Children can go to bed earlier if they don't have a lot of homework to do every night, and there are plenty of studies showing that homework isn't helpful either. Start time isn't the only variable involved in sleep deprivation.
Mrs. Q. January 31, 2013 at 02:21 PM
As a part of the study, if they haven't already thought of this, the researchers may want to gather stats on the number of 1st period absences in high school, particularily focusing on Juniors and Seniors who are old enough to drive themselves to school. I was a very responsible student with above average grades, and will admit getting to 1st period was a BIG challenge for me.
DawnP January 31, 2013 at 04:11 PM
Amen!! SO glad to hear that HCPSS is ready to take a serious look at this.
DawnP January 31, 2013 at 04:13 PM
I hope that Dr. SIddiqui is not suggesting that we need additional research on this issue, but rather that we should be taking a close look at the existing research. There's already plenty of evidence on this issue -- it's time to ACT on it, not do further studies.
NoPower February 02, 2013 at 10:57 AM
What kids need to do is to go to bed at a reasonable time just like we did when we were kids.
Amy Rottier February 05, 2013 at 05:14 AM
Part of the research has shown that, in general, kids *can't* fall asleep earlier, even given plenty of opportunity to do so - the change in their physiology/circadian rhythm does not permit it. So, adjust the school to their optimum mental focus time. There's a petition regarding this issue to show support: http://signon.org/s/9C44uT
Maribel Ibrahim February 06, 2013 at 04:29 AM
In only 1 day, the local Howard County petition has surpassed 100 signatures. These signers know that the science and research about the detrimental effects of early school start times speaks for itself. To view (and sign!) the petition, go here: http://tinyurl.com/sslhoco You can also read here to uncover the myths about later school start times: http://www.startschoollater.net/myths-and-misconceptions.html

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