A. Parent and Student Perspectives
“Get up! Sleepy teens roam school halls while debate goes on about changing start times.” (522)—Joshua Creel, former student, Park School.
Most adolescent students appear to recognize they get too little sleep. (35, 109, 131) As previously discussed (see, § II.A., supra), survey studies regularly report that adolescents desire more sleep than they obtain. (1.5, 147) Many students also appear to appreciate that early start times contribute to their sleepiness. (522, 591, 592)
In 2004, citing scientific research and fiscal analysis to support their position, the California Student Advisory Board on Legislation in Education recommended delaying start times throughout the state to 8:40 a.m. (51.5) Students from Ladue Horton Watkins High School in Missouri produced a video for SchoolTube.com advocating later school schedules for teens. (594) In California, students founded The Sleep Club to advocate for later high school start times in the Temecula Valley Unified School District. (595) High school students write frequently about diminished sleep (522, 591) and the benefits of later start times. (See, e.g., Appendix, Student Advocacy, infra.) Web-surfing through Facebook reveals a number of student-created pages challenging the wisdom of early start times.
Dr. Richard Schwab, Associate Professor of Pulmonary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Co-Director of the Penn Sleep Center, conducted a survey of 280 high school students attending Harriton High School in suburban Philadelphia. His daughter, Amanda, then “one of the sleep-deprived teens” attending the school, assisted with the study. (14, 523) Their findings, presented at the American Thoracic Society 2007 International Conference, showed that 90% of students thought their academic performance would improve if school were to start later than the present 7:30 a.m. starting time. (14, 523) Seventy-eight percent of students said it was difficult to get up in the morning; 16% said they regularly had enough sleep; 70% thought their grades would improve if they had more sleep. (14, 523)
The surveyed teens said they do not feel alert while taking tests during early morning periods, and they do not think they can perform at their best during the early morning hours. (14, 523) Most students said they thought the best time to take a test would be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., (14, 523) a conclusion echoed by 60.1% of the 9,089 high school students surveyed in a 2014 three-state study. (309) As previously noted, § III.A., supra, a study of 60 high school seniors found students performed best in the afternoon and “show their poorest performance levels” at 8 a.m. (6) A study of 9th and 10th grade students found “larks” outperformed “owls” on exams administered from 10 a.m. to noon. (261)
As in other districts where start times have been delayed (see, e.g., § IV.C., infra), after the high schools in the Arlington, Virginia, public school system moved their start times from 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m., students reported in a survey that they felt more alert and prepared for school (and teachers reported improvement in both student alertness and participation). (43) Following the 30 minute start time delay to 8:30 a.m. at St. George’s School in Rhode Island, students reported greater motivation (and performed better on objective measures of alertness). (41) Students also reported significantly more satisfaction with sleep. (599)
Seventy-five percent of the 9,089 high school students surveyed in the aforementioned three-state study believed classes should begin at 8:30 a.m. or later; (309) half favored starting at 9 a.m. or later. (309) When considering changing times at their own schools, however, students may favor retaining the status quo and oppose delaying morning classes. (522) Nonetheless, in each instance where students have been surveyed following a change to later start times they have overwhelmingly approved of the change, whether in Minnesota, (3, 37) Connecticut, (2) or Rhode Island. (41, 600)
In 2006, the National Sleep Foundation poll found 90% of parents believed their teenage children were getting enough sleep. (101) The same poll, however, found only 1 in 5 adolescents captured optimal sleep (9 hours or more) (2, 225.7) on school nights. (101)
Eight years later, in May of 2014, a survey of 1200 adults in Oregon and Washington found 74% believe high school students get too little sleep. (601) Twenty-nine percent believe 7 hours to be sufficient, 48% believe 8 hours would be sufficient, and 11% estimate 9 hours as sufficient. (601) Just over half (52%) believe that high schools generally begin classes at the right time. (601; see n. 53.5 [8:14 a.m. is the average Oregon combined public middle and high school start time; 8:08 a.m. in Washington].)
In November and December 2014, researchers from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital asked a national sample of 636 parents of children in middle or high school (ages 13-17 years) about the impact of later school start times for teens. (602) Only 20% of the surveyed parents had previously heard or read about the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) start time guidelines. (602) Once advised, 71% of parents agreed with with the guidelines, but otherwise hold views “more mixed than the medical evidence would suggest.” (602)
Only about one parents in five believed delaying morning classes times would improve academic performance. (602) Only 40% believed their teens would get more sleep if school started at 8:30 a.m. or later. (602) Twenty-two percent contended starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later would not allow enough time for after-school activities. (602) One in seven say later start times will negatively affect transportation. (602) The great majority of parents (88%) said their teens’ schools currently have a start time before 8:30 a.m. (602) Among these parents, 27% would support a school start of 8:30 a.m. or later only if it did not impact the school budget, and 24% would support a later start time regardless of impact on the school budget. (602) About one-half (49%) of the surveyed parents would not support a later school start time. (602)
Parent opposition to later school scheduling has often been characterized as “vehement.” (24, 564) “[C]hanging a school’s starting time provokes … [an] emotional reaction from stakeholders….” (58) In some instances, parent-opponents have successfully pressed administrators to restore early secondary school scheduling shortly after implementation of later starting times. (See, Appen. A, infra, Schools Recently Delaying Start Times, etc. [Orange County Public Schools, Fla.]; Appen. L, infra, Schools Recently Going Nowhere [Brunswick County Schools, N.C.]; see also, n. 578, infra.) While stakeholder inclusion and careful planning may help avoid failed start time changes, (293)
“[M]any superintendents and school board members across the United States have lost their jobs as result of contentious public meetings where people who were against the change took action to replace those in leadership positions supporting the change.” (293)
Before start time changes went into effect in suburban Edina Public Schools [(1996) high schools shifted 7:20 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.] (3) and urban Minneapolis Public Schools [(1997) high schools shifted 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m.] (3, 37, see, § IV.C., infra), parents had predicted adjusting start times would interfere with after-school sports and transportation. (3, 37) In the only published study to survey parents following a start time change, CAREI researchers found 92% of Edina parents reported favoring the new schedule. (3, 37) Negative comments centered on later after school activities or sports. (37)
Minneapolis parents were interviewed in focus groups; their reactions were “more mixed,” often with negative comments related to changes required in work schedules and transportation limitations. (37) Both urban and suburban parents noted that their high school children were “easier to live with.” (37) They found that they were having “fewer confrontations” with their children in the morning about getting out of bed and getting to school on time. (37) They also commented that they were having more “actual conversations” with their teenage children in the morning, finding that they had new “connection time” with their child. (37)
As the science and scientists supporting later school scheduling proliferate (see, e.g., Appen. C, infra), parent advocates may also be on the rise. (603) Parental authority, however, extends only so far. In January 2012, the Sacramento, California parent group STEPS’ (Support to Engage Parents and Students) plan for later high school scheduling (i.e., 7:50 a.m. to 8:20 a.m.) was thwarted by a majority of the teachers’ union, which exercised its authority to preclude “any change of five minutes or more” to the existing contract. (See, Appen. G, infra, Rio Americano High School, Cal.)
In Fairfax, Virginia, for more than a decade, Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (SLEEP) campaigned for later secondary school scheduling only to achieve later high school start times at middle school students’ expense. (See, Appen. A, infra, Fairfax County Public Schools, Va. [board delayed high school start from 7:20 a.m. to between 8 a.m. and 8:10 a.m., while advancing most middle school start times to 7:30 a.m. from previous start times between 8:05 a.m. and 7:25 a.m.].)
Therapist Mandi Mader‘s 2012 petition for 8:15 a.m. or later high school start times in Montgomery County Public Schools — the first act of the Montgomery County Chapter of the national advocacy group Start School Later — gathered over 13,500 signatures. At the time, district high schools began morning classes at 7:25 a.m., middle schools at 7:55 a.m., and elementary schools between 8:50 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. After multiple board meetings and multiple start time reports, in 2015, with schedules unchanged, parents and students combined forces, filming a video and organizing a “sleep-in” at district headquarters.
On April 21, 2015, the Montgomery County Public Schools School Board voted to push middle and high school start times to 8:50 a.m. for 2016-2017, while advancing the elementary school start time to 8 a.m. In response, a group of 1,200 parents calling themselves “Parents Who Want to Be Heard” began campaigning to reinstate later elementary school start times. In June 2015, the group noted that if the current “school board members don’t listen to you, you still have five months to find new ones who will.” (See, Appen. A, infra, Montgomery County Public Schools, Md.)