Seattle Reminds Parents of New School Day Start Times

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

School officials throughout Seattle Public Schools are working to remind parents and students about the new start and end times for the school day set to take effect for the 2016-17 school year.

The Seattle School Board voted in November 2015 to begin the school day at all of its high schools, the majority of its middle schools, and at a small selection of K-8 schools at 8:45 a.m. after research was made public concerning the health benefits of additional sleep for teenagers.  The new schedule will also see a large number of elementary schools start at the earlier time of 7:45 a.m.  As a result, the district has become one of the largest in the country to implement such a time change.

Research from a 2014 report suggests that more than 90% of high school students are chronically sleep-deprived, which has severe effects on both physical and emotional health.  It is suggested that overtired teenagers are more likely to be overweight, anxious, and earn lower grades.

Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest middle and high schools should begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m.  However, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of Education Department statistics found less than one in five of these schools actually do.

Advocates for delayed school start times began to push for the change in Seattle several years ago.  Cindy Jatul, a high school biology and biotech teacher in the district, said she first began to suggest the change in 2012 after noticing severe signs of sleep deprivation among a number of her students as well as her own daughter.  She joined together with a group of other teachers, health experts and community leaders to form a coalition.

In return, a task force was formed by the district to determine the feasibility of such a change, which ended with the board voting on the matter.

“It makes no sense to wake teenagers up in very early hours when they are still predisposed to being asleep,” said Dr. Maida Chen, director of the children’s sleep disorders program at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and one of the health experts to join the coalition. “I see a lot of children who are chronically sleep-deprived. They struggle with issues of health, behavior, emotional regulation.”

“Making this change … was the best change to make for the benefits of our children’s health, safety and learning,” she added.

Despite the benefits involved, parent reaction to the change has been mixed.  While some support the change, others are left to find child care for their children who are now getting out of school at a new time.  A list of resources is located on the district website to help parents navigate these changes, including after-school activities and child care options.

A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found 57% of parents with children under the age of 18 believe their children get enough sleep.  In addition, more than 40% of participating parents approved of the start time at their child’s school, writes Rebecca Klein for The Huffington Post.

Reminder letters written in six different languages concerning the time change were sent out to parents in the beginning of August:

“Research has shown that teenagers benefit from later start times resulting in more sleep, better health, reduced discipline and improved truancy rates,” Assistant Superintendent Pegi McEvoy wrote parents.

Kristin Decarr

Kristin Decarr

Kristin Decarr

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