Sta­tus quo for high school day start times

Times-Record - - News - Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ con­nie_s­tar­dem. By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­

— Mid-Shore school districts will con­tinue their same bell sched­ules for the 2017-2018 school year de­spite rec­om­men­da­tions for a later start time for teens.

The lat­est group to call for later start times is the Na­tional PTA, which adopted a Res­o­lu­tion on Healthy Sleep for Ado­les­cents at its na­tional con­fer­ence in June.

The res­o­lu­tion ac­knowl­edges research link­ing de­fi­cient sleep with threats to teen “health, safety and well-being” and iden­ti­fies early school start times as a “key but mod­i­fi­able con­trib­u­tor to in­suf­fi­cient sleep.”

But on the Mid-Shore, prac­ti­cal and lo­gis­ti­cal con­cerns de­ter­mine when the sec­ondary school day be­gins.

Buses usu­ally make two runs: pick­ing up and drop­ping off high school stu­dents first, then head­ing back out for ele­men­tary and mid­dle school stu­dents.

“We are not able to con­sider chang­ing start times be­cause our ele­men­tary, mid­dle and high schools share buses,” Tal­bot County Pub­lic Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Kelly Grif­fith said.

“Cur­rently, we have sec­ondary schools, in­clud­ing the St. Michaels cam­pus, start at 7:45 a.m., and some ele­men­tary stu­dents do not ar­rive home un­til 5 p.m. If we switched, it would cre­ate mul­ti­ple con­cerns for our fam­i­lies,” Grif­fith said.

The start time is 8 a.m. for both North Dorch­ester and Kent Is­land high schools.

“I think 8 a.m. is ap­pro­pri­ate, and it’s close to the time rec­om­mended by the Na­tional PTA,” Kent Is­land High School Prin­ci­pal John Schre­con­gost said.

“The far­ther you push the start time, the more it in­ter­feres with ath­let­ics and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties in the af­ter­noon, but those things are all sec­ondary,” Schre­con­gost said. “Aca­demics are more im­por­tant.”

The Na­tional PTA res­o­lu­tion stated, “Research shows that ado­les­cents re­quire be­tween 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep per night, yet more than two-thirds of U.S. teens av­er­age fewer than 8 hours of sleep on school nights.”

At North Caro­line High School (NCHS), the first bell is 7:40 a.m. with class start­ing at 7:50 a.m.

“I know what the research says,” NCHS Prin­ci­pal Michael Smith said. “It’s a move­ment a lot of peo­ple are be­hind, and it has its ben­e­fits. Both sides have a case.”

Smith thinks that the is­sue comes down to par­ent­ing and teens being al­lowed ac­cess to so­cial me­dia and cell phones which have “changed sleep pat­terns,” Smith said. “I have four of my own kids. Fam­i­lies are not the same; par­ent­ing is not the same.”

One of the fac­tors in­flu­enc­ing start times in all five Mid-Shore districts is bus sched­ul­ing and lim­it­ing the num­ber of bus runs. The lat­est bus runs are ele­men­tary schools.

“Right now, our high school stu­dents are ready to be picked up at 6 a.m.,” Smith said. “Some­body has to start early, and some­body has to start late.”

Queen Anne’s County and Kent County high schools have the same start times. Stu­dents ar­rive at 7:25 and the first class be­gins at 7:35. Dis­missal is 2:20 p.m. at both schools.

After school ac­tiv­i­ties also af­fect start times. “Our sec­ondary stu­dent ath­letes would be im­pacted by later prac­tice times and would miss more classes when they travel for com­pe­ti­tions,” Grif­fith said.

The Na­tional PTA res­o­lu­tion claims that “(n)at­u­ral sleep rhythms change as chil­dren grow into ado­les­cence, such that ado­les­cents re­quire an in­creased amount of sleep, have dif­fi­culty fall­ing asleep be­fore 11 p.m., and func­tion op­ti­mally if per­mit­ted to re­main asleep un­til 8 a.m. or later.”

“What place of work do you roll into at 9 a.m.?” Smith said. “My first class at col­lege started at 8 a.m. We’re teach­ing life skills, and some­times you’re go­ing to have to ready early.”

A later start time “is not the only fix we need in ed­u­ca­tion right now,” Smith said. “As­sess­ments, new grad­u­a­tion re­quire­ments, col­lege and ca­reer fed­eral re­quire­ments (are all pri­or­i­ties).”

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