A survey of school board members from across New York found a majority supporting delaying the start time for high schools in an attempt to accommodate the needs of a typical high schoolers sleeping cycle, and local educators say the proposal is doable but presents some challenges.
The state School Boards Association said the random sampling of 378 school board members found that 59 percent signaled they agree that pushing back the school day is an idea with merit, while 28.5 opposed the proposal. Another 12.5 percent had no opinion.
More than half of those who completed the survey said that sleep deprivation among high school students is a significant problem, the association reported.
Locally, Newfane Superintendent Michael Baumann said because Newfane is a smaller district, such a change would impact families with younger children that need to be watched over by older children who would be getting out of school later.
"If you start (high school students) later, they get out later," Baumann observed.
Audra Lakeman, a guidance counselor in the Barker Central School District, said sleep deprivation "definitely affects attention and focus."
She added that students sleep deprived will also be more irritable.
Clark Godshall, the Niagara-Orleans BOCES superintendent, said in order for the teenagers to get more sleep classes would have to be pushed back an hour at least.
"Are you going to push everything back?" Godshall asked, observing that middle and elementary school students start later in the day and receive transportation after the high school students.
Gary Woodcock, the general manager of Ridge Road Express, said the proposal would affect Ridge Road but that the company would adjust.
"We would just have to adjust our time a little bit, not much. You still have the same number of kids to transport. It's going to be challenging but it's just changing things," Woodcock said.
The politically influential New York State United Teachers, which represents tens of thousands of New York's public school teachers, has not taken a position on the idea, said the union's spokesman, Matt Hamilton.
But Kyle Belokopitsky, president of the New York State Parent Teachers Association, called the proposal for a later start time "intriguing," suggesting the best results would be achieved by having all school districts in a particular region have matching schedules for their school days.
"If you have one school district starting an hour later than another, then how are they going to play their soccer or basketball games?" she asked.
The fact that high school students tend to go to bed later and have to be roused early to get them to school on time can impact what they retain when they get to those morning classes, she said.
"Much of the data has shown that older students generally do better later in the morning," Belokopitsky said. "I think each school district is going to have to have this conversation with parents and educators."
In a study released last month by Harvard Medical School, researchers stressed that consistent sleep patterns throughout the week, including on weekends, are vital for teenagers.
“Beyond quantity and quality, timing is a vital component of sleep because it determines if an individual’s circadian clock — the internal sleep/wake schedule — is synchronized with the rhythms of their daily activities,” Elsie Taveras, a nutrition professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, was quoted as saying in the Harvard Medical report.
That study determined that adolescent sleep patterns can be risk factors for obesity and cardiometabolic health, with the effects greater in girls than in boys.
The school boards' association's interest in promoting later start times dovetails with a national push by an advocacy group called Start School Later. It now has volunteer-led chapters in eight regions of the state.
Citing data collected by Start School Later, the school boards group said 42 high schools in New York now begin their instructional day at 8:15 a.m. or later, with 20 starting at 8:30 a.m. or later. The opening classroom bell rings at scores of other districts before 8 a.m.
Last December, researchers at the University of Washington and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies concluded that teens at high schools in Seattle got more sleep on school nights after classroom bell times were moved to later in the morning, with a median increase of 34 minutes of sleep each night.
Those students were determined to be getting a median of seven hours and 24 minutes of sleep each night under the later start time, when earlier they had been getting six hours and 50 minutes, according to a report published in the journal, Science Advances.
The state School Boards Association has been encouraging districts to review their high school start times for the past three years.