After survey, school start times stay the same in spite of research
Fall Mountain Regionals schools make no changes
By GLYNIS HART
LANGDON – In spite of research that supports the idea of making school start times later for middle and high school students, Fall Mountain High School recently announced changing would be too disruptive for most parents.
Principal Richard Towne summed up the results of a survey in the high school’s newsletter, saying although 52 percent of parents agreed moving the start times later would be beneficial, when parents were presented with options to make that happen, none received strong support. The high school’s first bell rings at 7:20 a.m.
Recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics say that adolescents’ internal clock keeps them awake longer in the evening, but they still need additional sleep in the morning. School districts in Keene, Portsmouth, Durham and Meredith have all moved to later start times. Brattleboro, Vt., moved all school start times to 8:45 a.m. in 2011.
The district offered three options: 1. Swapping the high school and the pre-K to 8th grade schedule. As many districts do, Fall Mountain picks up different age groups at different times to minimize the number of buses it has to have. 2. Moving all grades to the same start time (8:30 a.m.). This would require the purchase of six buses, at an estimated cost of $300,000 per year. 3. Moving all grades start time 30 minutes later, which would add transportation costs of around $150,000 per year.
The district has 1,531 students. Five hundred and twenty three parents responded to the survey. None of the proposals gained support from the parents: 82 percent opposed Option 1. Sixty-four percent of parents opposed Option 2. Slightly more than 50 percent favored moving all the school start times back 30 minutes, but 66 percent favored making no change at all. And 52 percent said that making the start times of afterschool activities later was unacceptable.
A majority of parents (64 percent) also opposed having high school and elementary schools riding the same buses.
“After seeing the results of this survey and discussing the possible scenarios it was recommended to the school board, and the board agreed, to put this issue on hold until further notice, when and if the circumstances call for us to revisit the issue,” wrote Towne. “While it is understood that a later start times is beneficial to the development of adolescents, the potential negative impacts on younger students given the span of our geographic area and the budget and tax implication of mitigating that issue are sacrifices that seem unappealing to our stakeholders at this time.”
The high school also shares the Cheshire Career Center at Keene High School, which recently moved its start times later. However, Towne didn’t know the effect on Fall Mountain of that change, as transportation plans for Keene haven’t been released yet.
Stevens High School in Claremont begins at 7:25 a.m. but the Claremont elementary schools start later, at 8:30 a.m. Newport Middle and High Schools begin at 7:30 a.m.
A study by the RAND Corporation found that delaying all school start times to 8:30 a.m. across the United States would add around $9 billion to the economy. Surveys of adolescents whose schools implemented later start times found they didn’t go to bed later after the change. They got more sleep, and more sleep correlates to lower rates of obesity, better academic performance, better mental health and fewer car crashes.
According to studies published by the AAP, “Insufficient sleep represents one of the most common, important, and potentially remediable health risks in children, particularly in the adolescent population, for whom chronic sleep loss has increasingly become the norm.” The AAP notes two significant biological changes in adolescents that make it harder for them to fall asleep at the same time as their younger selves, although they continue to need the same amount of sleep: Nocturnal melatonin secretion occurs later (melatonin is a hormone that causes sleepiness) and the pressure to fall asleep after being awake all day accumulates more slowly.