Sample Advocacy Letter (outline format)

August 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

This sample letter letter below (here in docx) includes excerpts from a May 23, 2012 article authored by RAND Corporation scientist Wendy Troxel, Ph.D.edward-koren-writer-wears-a-shakespeare-sweatshirt-as-he-works-over-a-typewriter-new-yorker-cartoon Citations to studies and articles supporting Dr. Troxel’s assertions are presented in an outline format. Two alternative sample letters are available; here (comprehensive overview) and here (focuses on academic achievement before addressing health/welfare issues).

As noted elsewhere, well after we prepared these sample letters, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued its Adolescent School Start Time Policy Statement (here or here). That document, and/or start time observations from scientists, physicians (including the AAP), and economists (see, Appen. C), will likely be far more persuasive than anything we can offer.

Your Name
Street Address
City, State/Zip
Phone, fax, and/or email

Today’s date

Addressee
Street Address
City, State/Zip

Dear Superintendent Last Name and Members of the School Board,

I am the parent/guardian of a child attending School Name. The School Name bell schedule requires children to begin morning classes time period before the earliest start time proposed by any expert for these students. (See expert recommendations, infra.) To safeguard the welfare and intellectual potential of these children, sleep scientists recommend a delay in morning classes until 8:30 a.m., or later. I am writing to request that the School District implement healthy start times for middle and/or high school students.

In May of 2012, Wendy Troxel, a RAND Corporation behavioral and social scientist, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, joined by more than 50 of her colleagues, cautioned Pittsburgh Public Schools against implementing a plan to advance high school start times by 30 minutes to 7:36 a.m., or by 60 minutes to 7:06 a.m., in order to save $1.2 million in transportation costs.

“Robust evidence has long demonstrated the adverse consequences of early school start times for teenagers’ academic, mental, social and physical well-being. And no, they can’t just go to bed earlier — their hormones won’t let them. [¶] Keeping the ultimate goal of our education system in mind (to prepare students to become contributing members of society), evidence suggests that earlier school start times are associated with significant reductions in academic achievement — with the strongest effects among the most economically disadvantaged students. [¶] We understand there is no easy fix for the Pittsburgh public schools’ budget problems. But making a short-sighted decision that flies in the face of unequivocal scientific evidence would, in the long term, cost the city of Pittsburgh far more in terms of lost wages, higher rates of crime, more motor vehicle accidents and increased rates of obesity and associated health complications. [¶] Before deciding to move up start times — whether by an hour or a half hour — the Pittsburgh school board should weigh against a negligible savings in dollars the considerable costs to our children and to our society. [¶] As scientists, parents and members of the Pittsburgh community, we strongly oppose making school start times earlier, even by a half hour.” (Troxel, The high cost of sleepy teens (May 23, 2012) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

Economists from Columbia University and the University of Michigan “conservatively” estimate that shifting middle and high school start times “from roughly 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.[,]” will increase academic achievement by 0.175 standard deviations on average, with effects for disadvantaged students roughly twice as large as advantaged students, at little or no cost to schools; i.e., a 9 to 1 benefits to costs ratio when utilizing single-tier busing, the most expensive transportation method available. (Jacob & Rockoff, Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments (Sept. 2011) Hamilton Project, Brookings Inst., pp. 5-11, 21, n. 7 [considering study by Cortes, et al. (here), distinguishing study by Hinrichs (here)].) “This impact is equivalent to an additional two months of schooling.” (Policy Brief, Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments (Aug. 2011) Brookings Inst., Hamilton Project, p. 4.) “When translated into earnings, the average student who starts school later would make about $17,500 more over the course of her life.” (Ibid.; Jacob & Rockoff, Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments, supra, Hamilton Project, Brookings Inst., pp. 6, 10 [accord].)

(a) Joining other Harvard educators in endorsing later start times (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, pp. 382-383), Professor of Sleep Medicine Susan Redline advises that 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. classes begin too early for adolescent students to obtain sufficient sleep and serve to interrupt REM sleep. (Powell, Bleary America needs some shut-eye: Forum points to schools, hospitals, factories as ripe for sleep reform (Mar. 8, 2012) Harvard Science.) The biological preference for later sleep/wake patterns commences with puberty. (O’Malley & O’MalleySchool Start Time and Its Impact on Learning and Behavior, publish. in, Sleep and Psychiatric Disorders in Children and Adolescents (Ivanenko edit., Informa Healthcare 2008) pp. 79-81, 83-84.) A recent longitudinal study “demonstrated that adolescent changes in sleep (delayed sleep phase and disrupted sleep) are evident prior to the bodily changes associated with puberty.” (Wolfson & Richards, Young Adolescents: Struggles with Insufficient Sleep, publish. in, Sleep and Development (Oxford Univ. Press, El Sheikh edit. 2011) p. 268.) Adolescents require 9 or more hours of sleep per night. (O’Malley & O’Malley, supra, pp. 79-80.) Sleep-deprivation prevails among teenagers attending schools with 7:30 a.m. start times. (See, e.g., Ming, Koransky, Kang, Buchman, Sarris, & WagnerSleep Insufficiency, Sleep Health Problems and Performance in High School Students (Oct. 20, 2011) Clinical Medicine Insights: Circulatory, Respiratory & Pulmonary Medicine 5, pp. 71-79.) “[S]tudents who start school at 7:30 a.m. or earlier obtain less total sleep on school nights because of earlier rise times.” (Millman, edit., Excessive Sleepiness in Adolescents and Young Adults: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Strategies (Jun. 2005) 115 Pediatrics 6, p. 1776.)

(b)   “[O]n school days adolescents are obtaining less sleep then they are thought to need, and the factor with the biggest impact is school start times. If sleep loss is associated with impaired learning and health, then these data point to computer use, social activities and especially school start times as the most obvious intervention points.” (Knutson & Lauderdale, Sociodemographic and behavioral predictors of bed time and wake time among U.S. adolescents aged 15–17 years (Mar. 2009) 154 J. Pediatrics 3, p. 426.) “School schedules are forcing them to lose sleep and to perform academically when they are at their worst.” (Hansen, Janssen, Schiff, Zee, & Dubocovich, The Impact of School Daily Schedule on Adolescent Sleep (Jun. 2005) 115 Pediatrics 6, p. 1560, italics added.) Consistent with previous studies, the 2011 National Sleep Foundation poll found only 14% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 reported getting the recommended number of hours of sleep on school nights. (2011 Sleep in America Poll: Communications Technology in the Bedroom (Mar. 2011) Nat. Sleep Foundation, p. 40; see also, 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data User’s Guide (Jun. 2012) Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, pp. 74, 86; Teens and Sleep Poll a Wake-Up Call, Pediatric Sleep Experts Say (Mar. 2006) Brown Univ.) “Sleep deprivation among adolescents appears to be, in some respects, the norm rather than the exception in contemporary society.” (Roberts, Roberts, & Duong, Sleepless in adolescence: Prospective data on sleep deprivation, health and functioning (2009) 32 J. Adolescence, p. 1055.)

(c)   The District Name schedule will continue to have middle and high school students in class while melatonin pressures them to sleep (Later Start Times for High School Students (Jun. 2002) University Minn.), thus impairing academic performance. (CarrellMaghakian, & West, A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Performance of Adolescents (Aug. 2011) 3 Am. Economic J.: Economic Policy 3, pp. 62-81; Edwards, Early to Rise? The Effect of Daily Start Times on Academic Performance (Dec. 2012) 31 Economics of Education Rev. 6, pp. 970-983.) The study by Carrell, et al., supra, found “that when a student is randomly assigned to a first period course starting prior to 8 a.m., they perform significantly worse in all their courses taken on that day compared to students who are not assigned to a first period course. Importantly, we find that this negative effect diminishes the later the school day begins.” (CarrellMaghakian, & West, A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Performance of Adolescents, supra, 3 Am. Economic J.: Economic Policy 3, p. 63, italics added.) This outcome is supported by Edwards’ seven-year study which found a 1.5 to 3 percentile gain in middle school standardized math and reading scores when start times were delayed by one hour, to 8:30 a.m. Edwards notes the benefit is greatest for the bottom half of the distribution. (Edwards, Early to Rise? The Effect of Daily Start Times on Academic Performance, supra, 31 Economics of Education Rev. 6, pp. 970-983.) A 2009 study of Chicago public high schools found students beginning morning classes at 8 a.m. showed marked deficiencies in performance in first period math courses throughout the term. (Cortes, Bricker, & Rohlfs, The Role of Specific Subjects in Education Production Functions: Evidence from Morning Classes in Chicago Public High Schools (2012) 12 B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy 1, Art. 27, p. 30.) Students were also more likely to be absent (by 3.6 to 6.8 days per year depending on the subject) in first period relative to other periods. (Id., p. 23.) By contrast, truancy/tardiness rates fell at St. George’s School (a Rhode Island boarding school) when start times were delayed from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. (Owens, Belon, & Moss, Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behavior (Jul. 2010) 164 Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, pp. 608-614.) Researchers also noted “significant improvements” in student alertness following the 30-minute delay. (Id., p. 608; see also, Vedaa, Saxvig, Wilhelmsen-Langeland, Bjorvatn, & Pallesen, School start time, sleepiness and functioning in Norwegian adolescents (Feb. 2012) Scandinavian J. Educational Research, pp. 55-67.)

(d)   Teens will be driving while their circadian biology dictates sleep, impairing psychomotor performance and increasing the likelihood of driving crashes. (See, Vorona, Szklo-Coxe, Wu, Dubik, Zhao, & Ware, Dissimilar Teen Crash Rates in Two Neighboring Southeastern Virginia Cities with Different High School Start Times (Apr. 2011) 7 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 7, pp. 145-151; Danner & Phillips, Adolescent Sleep, School Start Times, and Teen Motor Vehicle Crashes (Dec. 2008) 4 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 6, pp. 533–535.) Automobile accidents represent the leading cause of death among teenagers, accounting for approximately 40% of teen fatalities annually and billions of dollars in attendant costs. (CDC, Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety, Teen Drivers: Fact Sheet.) “[T]his is a strong reason in itself to change school start times.” (ClineDo Later School Start Times Really Help High School Students? (Feb. 27, 2011) Psychology Today.)

(e)   A CDC study published in August 2011 found an association between health-risk behaviors and diminished weeknight sleep in adolescents, corroborating findings from previous studies. (McKnight-Eily, Eaton, Lowry, Croft, Presley-Cantrell, & Perry, Relationships between hours of sleep and health-risk behaviors in US adolescent students (Aug. 5, 2011) Preventive Medicine, 1-3; Pasch, Laska, Lytle, & Moe, Adolescent Sleep, Risk Behaviors, and Depressive Symptoms: Are They Linked? (Mar. 2010) 34 Am. J. Health Behavior 2, pp. 237-248; O’Brien & MindellSleep and Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents (2005) 3 Behavioral Sleep Medicine 3, pp. 113-133.) A July 2011 study by University of Nebraska at Omaha criminologists found “preliminary evidence that sleep-deprived adolescents participate in a greater volume of both violent and property crime…. Further, our results indicate that every little bit of sleep may make a difference. That is, sleeping 1 (hour) less (i.e., 7 hours) than the recommended range increased the likelihood of property delinquency, and this risk increased for each hour of sleep missed.” (Clinkinbeard, Simi, Evans, & Anderson, Sleep and Delinquency: Does the Amount of Sleep Matter? (Jul. 2011) J. Youth & Adolescence, p. 926.)

(f)   Following the 30 minute start time delay to 8:30 a.m. at St. George’s School, Dr. Judith Owens found the number of students reporting symptoms of depression declined (Owens, Belon, & Moss, Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behavior, supra, 164 Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, p. 613), confirming outcomes from the Minnesota longitudinal studies (high school start times delayed to 8:30 a.m., Edina, 8:40 a.m., Minneapolis). (Wahlstrom, Changing Times: Findings From the First Longitudinal Study of Later High School Start Times (Dec. 2002) 86 Nat. Assn. Secondary School Principals Bull. 633, pp. 3, 13.) Given the relationship between depression and suicidal ideation in adolescents, Dr. Owens commented the finding was “particularly noteworthy.” (Owens, Belon, & Moss, Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behavior, supra, 164 Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, p. 613; Sleep Experts Concerned About St. Paul Start Time Change (Jun. 3, 2011) CBS.) Suicide is the third leading cause of death among U.S. adolescents, in recent years accounting for 10% or more of all teen fatalities. (CDC Nat. Vital Statistics System, Mortality Tables.) Recent data put the suicide rate in the general population at 2.7%. (Miniño, Xu, & Kochanek, Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2008 (Dec. 9, 2010) 59 Nat. Vital Statistics Rep. 2.)

CDC scientists report, “Delaying school start times is a demonstrated strategy to promote sufficient sleep among adolescents.” (Eaton, McKnight-Eily, Lowry, Croft, Presley-Cantrell, & Perry, Prevalence of Insufficient, Borderline, and Optimal Hours of Sleep Among High School Students – United States, 2007 (2010) 46 J. Adolescent Health, p. 401.) In 2009, scientists writing in the journal Developmental Neuroscience succinctly stated the uniformly held position of sleep experts on school start times:

“For policy makers, teachers and parents, these results provide a clear mandate. The effects of sleep deprivation on grades, car accident risk, and mood are indisputable. A number of school districts have moved middle and high school start times later with the goal of decreasing teenage sleep deprivation. We support this approach, as results indicate that later school start times lead to decreased truancy and drop-out rates.” (Hagenauer, Perryman, Lee, & Carskadon, Adolescent Changes in the Homeostatic and Circadian Regulation of Sleep (2009) 31 Developmental Neuroscience 4, p. 282; see also, Carskadon, For better student health, start school later (Sept. 5, 2012) Brown Univ.; Carskadon, Vieira, & Acebo, Association between puberty and delayed phase preference (1993) 16 Sleep 3, p. 261.)

Please follow the evidence when determining the time of day school begins.

Yours truly,

Your Name/Title/Affiliation

early a.m. bus -- jimmy smith

Student Advocacy

December 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Petitioners, etc.I'm not anti-system the system is anti-me

CALIFORNIA — The Sleep Club (Avants, School Start Times Topic of Temecula Parent Survey (Aug. 31, 2012) Temecula Patch; Shultz, TEMECULA: High school students seek later start (Oct. 31, 2011) The Californian; see also, Surowski, Students Push for More Sleep (Dec. 21, 2011) Temecula Patch; Kabany, Sleepy teens need relief (Nov. 6, 2011) North County Times) [Temecula Valley High School].

MICHIGAN — Fatima Shareef, Student Urges Dearborn School Start Time Change (Jan. 1, 2013) DeepSaidWhat? [Edsel Ford High School].

MISSOURI — “Students Say,” petition [Columbia Public Schools]; see also, Bianchi, The Teen Who Woke Up Her School (Aug. 13, 2014) Huffington Post [citing the efforts of student Jilly Dos Santos]; Hoffman, To Keep Teenagers Alert, Schools Let Them Sleep In (Mar. 13, 2014) N.Y. Times [accord].

Alex Pinder (Shapiro, School schedule changes raise ire of Parkway parents (Sept. 26, 2011) stltoday.com) [Parkway Central High School].

OHIO — Josh Flick (Collier, Waking up is hard to do (Feb. 29, 2012) FoxToledo.com; Dupont, Teens losing sleep over school (Feb. 27, 2012) Sentinel-Tribune) [Bowling Green High School].

PENNSYLVANIA – Klein, One Teen’s Crusade To Make Sure His Classmates Get Enough Rest (Jun. 28, 2016) Huffington Post;  Devlin, Chester County Student Forum lobbying for more sleep (May 1, 2016) The Mercury News [Unionville-Chadds Ford School District].

The Student Advisory Board on Legislation in Education

Cal. Assn. Student Councils (2004) Student Advisory Bd. on Legislation in Education, School Starting Time, pp. 10-11.

Videos   

Tyler Porter, School Start Time Video Project (Jun. 5, 2012) YouTube.

Mohommad Tavakoli, We need more sleep! (Jan. 5, 2010) YouTube [Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia].

Bailey Mohr, What’s Your Issue? Need More Sleep! (Apr. 13, 2010) SchoolTube.com [Ladue Horton Watkins High School, Missouri].

Matt’s Story: Rethinking School Start Times (2007) Harvard Univ., Healthy Sleep [includes brief interview with Richard Ferber, M.D., Associate Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Senior Associate in Neurology, Department of Neurology, Children’s Hospital Boston].website

Websites

John Sutherby, http://asthroughzzzs.weebly.com/ [ Radnor Township School District, PA]

Writings

Macintosh, Students Speak Out for Healthier School Start Times (Jul. 16, 2012) Potomac Patch.

Pierce M., School Start Times (Dec. 2011) Persuasive Essays.

ALABAMA — Mallory Schum, Starting classes so early isn’t good for students (Jan. 2, 2012) Press-Register [Theodore High School].

CALIFORNIA — Kayla Hung, School should begin later in the day (Mar. 18, 2016) whitneyupdate.com [Whitney High School].

Ilene Shturman, Later starting times for school (Apr. 29, 2013) Spartan Chronicles.

Michealla Foules, Teachers talk of starting school later: Many students deprive themselves of sleep (Jan. 30, 2013) Stagg Line [A.A. Stagg High School].

Kelsey Abkin, Solution: Start School Later (Nov. 26, 2011) Edhat: Teen Voice [Santa Barbara High School].

Kimberly Sanchez, Late-Start (Nov. 16, 2011) The Express [San Juan Hills High School].

CONNECTICUT — Elisa Pey, Why Teens Need Another Hour of Sleep Each Night (May 26, 2016) Greenwich-Post [Eastern Middle School]; Zach Speed, The Wrong Side of the Bed (Feb. 19, 2012) Inklings [Staples High School].

FLORIDA — Andrea Valdespino, Why Does High School Start So Early? (Oct. 2, 2012) The Crusader [Miami Sunset Senior High]

ILLINOIS — Julianne Crawford, Late Start Everyday? (Apr. 21, 2012) The Acronym [Ill. Math & Science Academy].

Michelle Martinez, Vince Cole, & Diana Avitia, Students Prefer Late Start Tuesdays (Oct. 17, 2011) Monthly Mortonian [Morton East High School].

INDIANA — James Fox, School Diary: Early start time for secondary schools has students lagging (Apr. 17, 2012) HeraldTimesOnline [subscription only] [Bloomington North High School].

Eleni Souronis, Teens vs. Sleep (Nov. 30, 2011) The Howl Online [Boone Grove High School].

IOWA — Andrea DuVall, Later start to the school day (Feb. 9, 2012) Ames Tribune [Ames Community School District].

KANSAS — Erin Sellers, Teens need more sleep (Mar. 23, 2012) KansasCity.com [Prairie Village, Kansas].

KENTUCKY — Haley Dallas, The Early Bird Gets … Sleepy? (Feb. 7, 2012) News Flash [McCracken County Public Schools].

MARYLAND — Matthew Stevens, Student asks school board for later high school start times (May 8, 2013) Baltimore Sun [Atholton High School].

Morenike Rossman, Sleep vs. School Time (Nov. 20, 2012) Mainstream [Paint Branch High School].

MASSACHUSETTS — kristenxo, School Start Times: A Wake-Up Call, Teen Ink.

Andrew Joyce, Revive the sleep study committee (Nov. 9, 2012) Wicked Local Halifax [Silver Lake Regional High School].

Matt Swanson, Guest Post: The Necessity of a Later School Start Time (Dec. 7, 2011) The Lounge: Students’ Information Blog [Burlington High School].

Zachary Dietz, Teens’ sleep needs dictate later school start time (Dec. 3, 2011) Daily Hampshire Gazette [Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School].

Sydney Snow, It’s Still Dark Out, Time for School! (Nov. 29, 2011) The Pentucket Profile [Pentucket Regional High School].

Henry von Thaden, Start Time Change (Nov. 2, 2011) Nauset Horizons [Nauset Regional High School].

Adam Finkel, Walpole High Should Delay Start Time (Nov. 2011) The Rebellion [Walpole High School].

MICHIGAN — Nathan DiRado, Benefits of Starting School Later (Apr. 15, 2013) The East Edition [South Lyon East High School].

Kaitlyn Nayback, Later Start Time Would Reduce Tardies (Nov. 27, 2012) The Panther Press [Center Line High School].

Jamie Grunewald, Nighty Night (Dec. 13, 2011) The East Edition [South Lyon East High School].

NEW JERSEY — Elizabeth Reilly, Student principals (May 13, 2012) Asbury Park Press [Lake Riviera Middle School].

NEW YORK — David Akst, Valley View: Teens aren’t made to wake up early (Aug. 16, 2014) Poughkeepsie J. [Red Hook High School].

Patrick Crowley, Help students focus by starting school later (Jul. 22, 2103) Long Island Newsday.

Delaney McDonough, Sleep: Are you getting enough? (May 21, 2012) timesunion.com [Ravena Coeymans Selkirk High School].

Mike Taylor, Sleep: The Best Medicine? (May 17, 2012) The West Wind [Corning West High School].

Stephanie Philpott, Sleep is a necessity that is often overlooked by teenagers (Dec. 29, 2011) Niagara Falls Rev. [A.N. Myer Secondary School].

John Mantikas, Reasons behind students drowsiness (Oct. 27, 2011) The Charles Street Times [Lindenhurst High School].

Joshu Creel, Get up! Sleepy teens roam school halls while debate goes on about changing start times (Aug. 21, 2010) Buffalo News.com [Park School].

Urbs2013, School or Sleep. Why must we choose? (Nov. 18, 2009) Teen Ink.

NORTH CAROLINA — Olivia, Later Start Times for School? (Oct. 11, 2016) Letter to the Next President.

OHIO — Quinton Couch, Sleep deprivation in today’s youth (Jan. 12, 2012) Ro-Hi-Ti [Ross High School].

Victoria Bracher, Start time unrealistic (Dec. 5, 2011) The Colonel [Roosevelt High School].

OREGON — Eric Wakeling, School Start Times and Sleep (Jan. 19, 2012) Newspacer [Lakeridge High School].

PENNSYLVANIA — Preeth Vijay, Straight outta sleep: a case for teens’ most coveted commodity (Sept. 4, 2015) Bucks County Courier Times [Holy Ghost Preparatory School].

Zac Einhorn, Let Us Sleep (Apr. 9, 2012) Raider Express [Middletown Area High School].

Sienna Lee, Why high school students need a later arrival time (Dec. 12, 2011) Lion’s Tale [New Hope-Solebury High School].

SOUTH DAKOTA — Mary Dick, To sleep or not to sleep (Oct. 7, 2011) Panther Pride [Dakota Valley High School].

TEXAS — Justin Graham, We’ve Got Two Options (Jan. 5, 2012) Essay Forum [McKinney Independent School Dist.].

UTAH — Madison Markworth, Middle schoolers need their sleep (May 3, 2012) HJNews.com [Cedar Ridge Middle School].

Hannah Monson, Middle school starts too early (Apr. 29, 2012) HJNews.com [Cache County School Dist.].

Katie Carlson, Later start time would improve student performance (Jul. 17, 2011) Warrior Ledger [Taylorsville High School].

VERMONT — Jadie Dow, So, What Time Should School Start? (May 2, 2013) The Windsor Gazette [Windsor High School].

Jesse Boudro, Why School Should Start Later (May 23, 2012) The Windsor Gazette [Windsor High School].

VIRGINIA — Andrew Jones, Letter: Sleep Deprived (Dec. 30, 2013) The Connection [Fairfax County Public Schools].

Christian Rector, Switch school start times (Jan. 23, 2013) N. Va. Times [Osbourn Park High School]; id., p. A6.

Meleana Moore, Debate Over Later School Start Times (May 11, 2012) The Chronicle @ Kettle Run [Kettle Run High School].

WASHINGTON — Amy Lenker, School start times should change (Jan. 4, 2017) The Olympian [Olympia School District]; Marissa Secreto, The Beat—Drowsy driving is like drunken driving (May 27, 2015) The Issaquah Press [Eastside Catholic High School]; Matthew Brown, School Start Time (2012) Spartan Spectrum [Stanwood High School].

WISCONSIN — Mary Siebert, Later school start time helps pupils (Jan. 20, 2012) Stevens Point J. [P.J. Jacobs Junior High School].

Liz Hall, Should High Schools Start School Late(r)? (Dec. 22, 2011) The Arrowhead [Arrowhead High School].

Sample Advocacy Letter (Overview)

October 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

In many instances, the initiative to adjust start times may be undertaken by legislators, or by community constituents such as physicians, antique-typewriterparents, PTA’s, voters’ groups, by the students themselves, or by you, rather than by school leaders (discussed in § IV, supra). While advocacy may take many forms, should writing be required, the sample letter below (here in docx) may serve as a basic template and may be modified as needed. Alternate sample letters are available here (outline format) and here (academic achievement, health/welfare). The difficulty, of course, is that each of these 6-7 page letters is about 6-7 pages longer than any school administrator is likely to ever read.

Well after we prepared these sample letters, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued its Adolescent School Start Time Policy Statement (here or here). That document, and/or start time observations from scientists, physicians (including the AAP), and economists (see, Appen. C), including recent evidence of attendance/graduation benefits, will likely be far more persuasive than anything we can offer.

Your Name
Street Address
City, State/Zip
Phone, fax, and/or email

Today’s date

Addressee
Street Address
City, State/Zip

Dear Superintendent Last Name and Members of the School Board,

I am the parent/guardian of a student presently attending School Name. I am writing to request that the School District implement healthy start times for middle and/or high school students. To safeguard the welfare and intellectual potential of these children, sleep experts recommend a delay in morning classes until 8:30 a.m., or later. (Start time recommendations available infra; see also, Vedaa, Saxvig, Wilhelmsen-Langeland, Bjorvatn, & Pallesen, School start time, sleepiness and functioning in Norwegian adolescents (Feb. 2012) Scandinavian J. Educational Research, pp. 55-67 [10th graders get 66 minutes more sleep and performance on attention/vigilance tasks improves with one hour start time delay to 9:30 a.m.].) First period at High School commences time period before the earliest start time recommended by any expert. (See, e.g., O’Malley & O’Malley, School Start Time and Its Impact on Learning and Behavior, publish. in, Sleep and Psychiatric Disorders in Children and Adolescents (Ivanenko edit., Informa Healthcare 2008) pp. 83, 84, 89.) Middle School begins time period too early. (See, e.g., Lufi, Tzischinsky, & Hadar, Delaying School Starting Time by One Hour: Some Effects on Attention Levels in Adolescents (Apr. 2011) 7 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 2, pp. 137-143.)

“[O]n school days adolescents are obtaining less sleep then they are thought to need, and the factor with the biggest impact is school start times. If sleep loss is associated with impaired learning and health, then these data point to computer use, social activities and especially school start times as the most obvious intervention points.” (Knutson & Lauderdale, Sociodemographic and behavioral predictors of bed time and wake time among U.S. adolescents aged 15–17 years (Mar. 2009) 154 J. Pediatrics 3, p. 426.) “School schedules are forcing them to lose sleep and to perform academically when they are at their worst.” (Hansen, Janssen, Schiff, Zee, & Dubocovich, The Impact of School Daily Schedule on Adolescent Sleep (Jun. 2005) 115 Pediatrics 6, p. 1560, italics added.) “The earliest school start times are associated with annual reductions in student performance of roughly 0.1 standard deviations for disadvantaged students, equivalent to replacing an average teacher with a teacher at the sixteenth percentile in terms of effectiveness.” (Jacob & Rockoff, Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments (Sept. 2011) Hamilton Project, Brookings Inst. p. 7.)

Although the evidence in support of delaying start times as benefiting the health, welfare, and academic performance of adolescents is overwhelming and uncontroverted (Troxel, The high cost of sleepy teens (May 23, 2012) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Hagenauer, Perryman, Lee, & Carskadon, Adolescent Changes in the Homeostatic and Circadian Regulation of Sleep (2009) 31 Developmental Neuroscience 4, p. 282), school schedules are often determined by politics, budgets, and athletics, rather than the best interests of students. (See Wolfson & Carskadon, A Survey of Factors Influencing High School Start Times (Mar. 2005) 89 Nat. Assn. Secondary School Principals Bull. 642, pp. 47-66; Wahlstrom, The Prickly Politics of School Starting Times (Jan. 1999) 80 Phi Delta Kappan 5, pp. 344-347.) There is no sound reason, however, why any of these concerns should prevail over the well-being of children.

First, any adverse political fallout stemming from a shift to later start times should be diminished by the burgeoning evidence supporting the change. (See Wahlstrom, School Start Times and Sleepy Teens (Jul. 2010) 164 Archives Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, pp. 676-677.) Second, a study published in March of 2011 establishes that careful planning permits later start times to co-exist with athletics and extracurricular activities. (Kirby, Maggi, & D’Angiulli, School Start Times and the Sleep-Wake Cycle of Adolescents: A Review and Critical Evaluation of Available Evidence (Mar. 2011) 40 Educational Researcher 2, pp. 56-61.) Third, recent studies anticipate financial gains for schools (and students) when morning classes are delayed, a significant fact in times of economic hardship. (EdwardsDo Schools Begin Too Early? (Summer 2012) 12 Education Next 3; Jacob & Rockoff, Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments, supra, pp. 5-11; CarrellMaghakian, & West, A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Performance of Adolescents (Aug. 2011) 3 Am. Economic J.: Economic Policy 3, pp. 62-81.) Fourth, finding ways to adjust start times is the “job of talented, smart school administrators.” (Taboh, American Teenagers Dangerously Sleep Deprived: Tired teens physically, mentally, emotionally compromised (Sept. 9, 2010) Voice Am. News; see also, Riddile, Time Shift: Is your school jet-lagged? (Mar. 14, 2011) Nat. Assn. Secondary School Principals, The Principal Difference.)

Consistent with previous studies, the 2011 National Sleep Foundation poll found only 14% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 report getting the recommended number of hours of sleep (9 or more) on school nights. (2011 Sleep in America Poll: Communications Technology in the Bedroom (Mar. 2011) Nat. Sleep Foundation, p. 40; see also, 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data User’s Guide (Jun. 2012) Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, pp. 74, 86; Teens and Sleep Poll a Wake-Up Call, Pediatric Sleep Experts Say (Mar. 2006) Brown Univ.) “Sleep deprivation among adolescents appears to be, in some respects, the norm rather than the exception in contemporary society.” (Roberts, Roberts, & Duong, Sleepless in adolescence: Prospective data on sleep deprivation, health and functioning (2009) 32 J. Adolescence, p. 1055.) “The consequences of this sleep deprivation are severe, impacting adolescents’ physical and mental health, as well as daytime functioning.” (Lund, Reider, Whiting, & Prichard, Sleep Patterns and Predictors of Disturbed Sleep in a Large Population of College Students (Feb. 2010) 46 J. Adolescent Health 2, p. 125.)

In 2010, CDC scientists reported, “Delaying school start times is a demonstrated strategy to promote sufficient sleep among adolescents.” (Eaton, McKnight-Eily, Lowry, Croft, Presley-Cantrell, & Perry, Prevalence of Insufficient, Borderline, and Optimal Hours of Sleep Among High School Students – United States, 2007 (2010) 46 J. Adolescent Health, p. 401.) Dr. Philip Fuller, Medical Director of the Mary Washington Hospital Sleep and Wake Disorders Center, explains: “Inherently, the majority of kids with a later start will get more sleep, which is beneficial to grades as well as being safer.” (Sklarew, Getting A’s with More Z’s: The fight for later school starts has backing from doctors and statistics (Nov. 2011) N. Va. Magazine.) “Students at later starting middle and high schools obtain more sleep due to later wake times and, in turn, function more effectively in school.” (Wolfson, Spaulding, Dandrow, & Baroni, Middle School Start Times: The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep for Young Adolescents (Aug. 15, 2007) 5 Behavioral Sleep Medicine 3, p. 205.) “By recognizing the shift in biological rhythms during adolescence and delaying school start times accordingly, classroom experience can be matched to the times when adolescents are most alert and attentive.” (CochFischer, & Dawson, Human Behavior, Learning, and the Developing Brain: Typical Development (Informa Healthcare 2010) pp. 382-383.)

Economists from the University of California and the United States Air Force Academy note that since later start times have a “causal effect” upon improved academic performance in adolescents, delaying morning classes may save schools money. “A later start time of 50 minutes in our sample has the equivalent benefit as raising teacher quality by roughly one standard deviation. Hence, later start times may be a cost-effective way to improve student outcomes for adolescents.” (CarrellMaghakian, & West, A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Performance of Adolescentssupra, 3 Am. Economic J.: Economic Policy 3, p. 80.) The benefit is greatest for the bottom half of the distribution, suggesting that delaying start times may be particularly important for schools attempting to reach minimum competency requirements. (Edwards, Early to Rise? The Effect of Daily Start Times on Academic Performance (Dec. 2012) 31 Economics of Education Rev. 6, p. 978.) Brookings Institute economists “conservatively” estimate that shifting middle and high school start times “from roughly 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.” would increase student achievement by 0.175 standard deviations on average, with effects for disadvantaged students roughly twice as large as advantaged students. (Jacob & RockoffOrganizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments, supra, Brookings Inst., pp. 10, 21, n. 7.) The economists estimate a corresponding increase in individual student future earnings of approximately $17,500, at little or no cost to schools; i.e., a 9 to 1 benefits to costs ratio when utilizing single-tier busing, the most expensive transportation method available. (Id., pp. 5-11.)

In addition, studies have shown young people between 16 and 29 years of age are “the most likely to be involved in crashes caused by the driver falling asleep.” (Millman, edit., Excessive Sleepiness in Adolescents and Young Adults: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Strategies (Jun. 2005) 115 Pediatrics 6, p. 1779.) Consistent with a previous study finding 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. to be the most treacherous travel time for young drivers (Pack, Pack, Rodgman, Cucchiara, Dinges, & Schwab, Characteristics of Crashes Attributed to the Driver Having Fallen Asleep (Dec. 1995) 27 Accident Analysis & Prevention 6, pp. 769-775), a five year study by the Ohio Department of Transportation released in August of 2011 showed that 7 a.m. is “the most dangerous time for teens driving to school.” (Crashes Involving Teens Triple During Back-to-School (Aug. 23, 2011) Ohio Department of Transportation.) Given that the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, pressures adolescents to sleep until approximately 8 a.m., these outcomes should not be surprising. (Later Start Times for High School Students (Jun. 2002) Univ. Minn.)

A study published in April 2011 associates early start times in Virginia Beach (7:25 a.m., except one school at 7:20 a.m.) with 41% higher crash rates among teen drivers than in adjacent Chesapeake where classes started at 8:40 a.m. or 8:45 a.m. (Vorona, Szklo-Coxe, Wu, Dubik, Zhao, & Ware, Dissimilar Teen Crash Rates in Two Neighboring Southeastern Virginia Cities with Different High School Start Times (Apr. 2011) 7 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 2, pp. 145-151.) In 1999, school districts in Lexington, Kentucky delayed start times for high school students county-wide by one hour to 8:30 a.m. Average crash rates for teen drivers in the county in the 2 years after the change in school start time dropped 16.5%, compared with the 2 years prior to the change, whereas teen crash rates for the rest of the state increased 7.8% over the same time period. (Danner & Phillips, Adolescent Sleep, School Start Times, and Teen Motor Vehicle Crashes (Dec. 2008) 4 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 6, pp. 533–535; see also, Storr, Sleepy teen pedestrians more likely to get hit, UAB study says (May 7, 2012) Univ. Al. Birmingham News.) In reviewing the study, John Cline, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, commented, “Given the danger posed to young people from car accidents this is a strong reason in itself to change school start times.” (Cline, Do Later School Start Times Really Help High School Students? (Feb. 27, 2011) Psychology Today.) Automobile accidents represent the leading cause of death among teenagers, accounting for approximately 40% of teen fatalities annually and billions of dollars in attendant costs. (CDC, Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety, Teen Drivers: Fact Sheet.)

A CDC study published in August 2011 found an association between health-risk behaviors and diminished weeknight sleep in adolescents, corroborating findings from previous studies. (McKnight-Eily, Eaton, Lowry, Croft, Presley-Cantrell, & Perry, Relationships between hours of sleep and health-risk behaviors in US adolescent students (Aug. 5, 2011) Preventive Medicine, 1-3; Pasch, Laska, Lytle, & Moe, Adolescent Sleep, Risk Behaviors, and Depressive Symptoms: Are They Linked? (Mar. 2010) 34 Am. J. Health Behavior 2, pp. 237-248; O’Brien & MindellSleep and Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents (2005) 3 Behavioral Sleep Medicine 3, pp. 113-133.) A July 2011 study by University of Nebraska at Omaha criminologists found “preliminary evidence that sleep-deprived adolescents participate in a greater volume of both violent and property crime…. Further, our results indicate that every little bit of sleep may make a difference. That is, sleeping 1 (hour) less (i.e., 7 hours) than the recommended range increased the likelihood of property delinquency, and this risk increased for each hour of sleep missed.” (Clinkinbeard, Simi, Evans, & Anderson, Sleep and Delinquency: Does the Amount of Sleep Matter? (Jul. 2011) J. Youth & Adolescence, p. 926.)

In 2009, following a Rhode Island boarding school’s change in start times from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., Dr. Judith Owens found the number of students reporting symptoms of depression declined, confirming outcomes from the Minnesota longitudinal studies (high school start times delayed to 8:30 a.m., Edina, 8:40 a.m., Minneapolis). (Owens, Belon, & Moss, Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behavior (Jul. 2010) 164 Archives Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, p. 613; Wahlstrom, Changing Times: Findings From the First Longitudinal Study of Later High School Start Times (Dec. 2002) 86 Nat. Assn. Secondary School Principals Bull. 633, pp. 3, 13.) Given the relationship between depression and suicidal ideation in adolescents, Dr. Owens commented the finding was “particularly noteworthy.” (Owens, Belon, & Moss, Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behavior, supra, 164 Archives Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, p. 613; see also, Dahl, The Consequences of Insufficient Sleep for Adolescents: Links Between Sleep and Emotional Regulation (Jan. 1999) 80 Phi Delta Kappan 5, pp. 354-359.) Serious consideration of suicide is among the many health-risk behaviors associated with restricted school night sleep in the 2011 CDC study. (McKnight-Eily, Eaton, Lowry, Croft, Presley-Cantrell, & Perry, Relationships between hours of sleep and health-risk behaviors in US adolescent students, supra, Preventive Medicine, pp. 1-3.) Suicide is the third leading cause of death among U.S. adolescents, in recent years accounting for 10% or more of all teen fatalities. (CDC Nat. Vital Statistics System, Mortality Tables.) Recent data put the suicide rate in the general population at 2.7%. (Miniño, Xu, & Kochanek, Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2008 (Dec. 9, 2010) 59 Nat. Vital Statistics Rep. 2.)

The adolescent sleep pattern runs from about 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. and is “rather fixed.” (Later Start Times for High School Students, supra, Univ. Minn.) As the National Sleep Foundation points out, only by carefully controlling light exposure, including wearing eyeshades to exclude evening light, have scientists been successful in modifying adolescent circadian rhythms. (Backgrounder: Later School Start Times (2011) Nat. Sleep Foundation.) Waking an adolescent at 7 a.m. is the “equivalent” of waking an adult at 4 a.m. (CarrellMaghakian, & West, A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Performance of Adolescentssupra, 3 Am. Economic J.: Economic Policy 3, p. 64.) Joining other Harvard educators in endorsing later start times (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, pp. 382-383), Professor of Sleep Medicine Susan Redline advises that 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. classes begin too early for adolescent students to obtain sufficient sleep and serve to interrupt REM sleep. (Powell, Bleary America needs some shut-eye: Forum points to schools, hospitals, factories as ripe for sleep reform (Mar. 8, 2012) Harvard Science.) Brown University’s Mary Carskadon refers to early school start times as “just abusive.” (Carpenter, Sleep deprivation may be undermining teen health (Oct. 2001) 32 Am. Psychological Assn. Monitor 9.)

In 2009, scientists writing in the journal Developmental Neuroscience succinctly stated the uniformly held position of sleep experts on school start times: “For policy makers, teachers and parents, these results provide a clear mandate. The effects of sleep deprivation on grades, car accident risk, and mood are indisputable. A number of school districts have moved middle and high school start times later with the goal of decreasing teenage sleep deprivation. We support this approach, as results indicate that later school start times lead to decreased truancy and drop-out rates.” (Hagenauer, Perryman, Lee, & Carskadon, Adolescent Changes in the Homeostatic and Circadian Regulation of Sleep, supra, 31 Developmental Neuroscience 4, p. 282.)  

School leaders have a unique capacity to shape the lives of students. (See, Park, Falling Asleep in Class? Blame Biology (Dec. 15, 2008) CNN.) The time of day when school begins is different than other issues in education — it has the potential to implicate adolescent morbidity and mortality. (Sleep Experts Concerned About St. Paul Start Time Change (Jun. 3, 2011) CBS; Vorona, Szklo-Coxe, Wu, Dubik, Zhao, & Ware, Dissimilar Teen Crash Rates in Two Neighboring Southeastern Virginia Cities with Different High School Start Times, supra, 7 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 7, pp. 145-151.) Physicians have been urging school administrators to eliminate early starting hours for teenagers since at least 1994. (Minn. Med. Assn. Letter to Superintendent Dragseth (Apr. 4, 1994) Edina Pub. Schools.) It’s long past time to start listening.

Yours truly,

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