September 3, 2014

DPS may give later start times a second look

A new policy that recommends starting school later in order to help teens get more sleep may start more conversations in school districts that have already rejected the option.

A new policy statement that recommends starting school later to help children – especially teens – get more sleep may restart conversations in school districts that have already rejected the option.

Starting later could ease problems associated with lack of sleep, including poor health, bad grades, car crashes, suicidal thoughts and depression, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. It recommends schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later.

“My position is that – and I feel pretty strongly about it – we shouldn’t have policies that we know can have negative impacts on our children,” said Heidi Carter, chairwoman of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education. “Having a start time before 8:30, you’re doing harm to a child’s physical and mental health, as well their academic performance.

“To me there is overwhelming scientific evidence in support of making a change,” she said.

Studies show most U.S. students in middle school and high school don’t get the recommended 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep on school nights. Most high school students get less than seven hours.

Most high schools and middle schools in the Durham Public Schools start at 7:30 a.m., while elementary schools start at 9 a.m.

The district has proposed flip flopping the times elementary students come in to school with high school and middle school students, or pushing back all school start times 30 minutes.

“I think they should switch the times between elementary schools and middle and high schools,” said Lauri Brandenburg, a mother of two children at Rogers Herr Year-Round Middle School. “(The children) are just not alert at 7:30 in the morning. It was a lot easier in elementary school when they started later.”

“I have math early in the morning at 7:30. I have to be honest; I can’t keep my eyes open in class,” her son, John Brandenburg, an eighth grader, added.

Some students, especially those that go to magnet schools across town may have to wake up before the sun rises to catch the bus as early as 6 a.m.

That would be the case for Jennifer Brown’s son, who is a sixth grader at Rogers-Herr, if he rode the bus. She and her husband take their children to school.

“We’re not even thinking buses,” Brown said. “Because he would have to wake up at the crack of dawn just to be here.”

Not all school board members support later start times.

Minnie Forte-Brown, school board vice chairwoman, said starting school later would just encourage some students to go to bed later and put off their homework until the morning.

Delaying the start times till after 8:30 could have a domino effect. Bus schedules would need to change, as well as after-school care and before-school care programs.

Opponents argue that starting school later would require ending school later, interfering with after-school jobs, older students taking care of younger siblings, and disrupting athletics and extracurricular activities.

Carter said the board already plans to have future conversations on the subject.

“I do think everyone on the board is interested in the idea and everyone agrees that we need to do more outreach to the community about all aspects of this,” she said.

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