Seattle Parents Push For Later School Start Time

Due to early school times, many parents deal with sleep deprived teenagers — and so do schools. Parents in a Seattle school district have started a petition to eliminate the problem, stating that high schools and middle schools should not start before 8:30 a.m. Currently the city’s schools start at 8 a.m. or earlier.

The idea for later school start times has been one that parents have discussed for years. Scientific evidence stating that teens tend to be night owls, and that delaying start times could improve their mood, attendance, health and possibly learning, is on their side, but due to logical and political complications, currently only 70 school districts in the country have found a way to do it.

Despite this, Seattle advocates are trying and they have Seattle School Board President Sharon Peaslee as an ally. As a parent of two high school students, she is hoping the board members will pass the resolution to find a way to make the change by fall 2015. The issue was brought up before, but parents objected.

Other districts that have attempted to delay start times for teens have also run into opposition, including from coaches who don’t want late dismissals cutting into sports practices, community groups that don’t want to wait later for gyms and fields as well as before- and after-school programs that don’t want to change their schedules.

John Higgins of The Seattle Times reports that this time scientists are supporting the effort in Seattle. Vishesh Kapur, founder of the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center, is one of more than 20 experts locally who endorses later school times for teens. “There are very few things in education policy that you can get down to a biological level and have relatively good data about what an education policy change might cause. This is one of them,” he said.

Researchers have known for awhile that plenty of sleep is important for good health.

In adolescence, something happens that pushes teenagers closer to the owl type, typically by about an hour. They appear to be more alert later in the day, and it’s harder for them to fall asleep. But once they do, they still need about nine or more hours of sleep.

Researchers in Colorado tracked the grades of freshmen in the U.S. Air Force Academy. Students who were assigned classes later in the day performed better than those who took first period classes. They also found that moving the start time from 7:00 to 7:50 raised the student’s academic performances by 3% points.

Support for change in Seattle continues to grow. The Seattle School Nurse Association has passed a resolution asking secondary schools to start school no earlier than 8:30.

Start School Later, a national advocacy organization has teamed up educators, parents and sleep scientists to support the time change.  Michael Vitiello, an expert on aging and sleep at University of Washington, also supports the district-wide effort, saying, “Because the science is so overwhelming and the potential upside is so great, this is something that we clearly owe the secondary students of the Seattle school district.”