Board mulls later start times

The Phoenix - - FRONT PAGE - Evan Brandt [email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

PHOENIXVILLE >> When the time comes for the Phoenixville School Board to make a de­ci­sion about later school start times, it won’t lack for choices.

In ad­di­tion to the choice to leave things as they are, which seems in­creas­ingly un­likely, the board was pre­sented with four dif­fer­ent pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios dur­ing a Nov. 13 meet­ing as it tries to find balance among the many dif­fer­ent as­pects af­fected by the de­ci­sion.

How will it im­pact ath­let­ics? Af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties? Bus­ing costs and sched­ules? Stu­dent health? Stu­dent achieve­ment? Costs for be­fore- and af­ter-school care?

All these ques­tions are part of a crazy quilt of op­tions, im­pacts and vari­ables, each of which shifts when one thread is pulled.

These are is­sues the school board has been pon­der­ing for 18 months, since it first agreed to ex­am­ine the is­sue and com­mis­sioned an ad­vi­sory group to in­ves­ti­gate the sci­ence and pol­icy and make rec­om­men­da­tions.

The prob­lem

The ques­tion the dis­trict is ad­dress­ing is a prob­lem posed by bi­ol­ogy — es­sen­tially, that teens need more sleep as a re­sult of changes brought on by ado­les­cence. Not only do they need at least eight hours of sleep, they need the qual­ity deep REM (rapid eye move­ment) sleep that comes late in the sleep cy­cle around 6 and 7 a.m., said Laura Daniels, a mem­ber of the ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee as­sem­bled by the school board that de­liv­ered its re­port Nov. 13.

And send­ing teens to bed ear­lier at night won’t work, Daniels said, be­cause teen bod­ies do not

start pro­duc­ing the sleep hor­mone mela­tonin un­til about 11 p.m.

“We hear a lot of peo­ple say let­ting teens sleep later is not pre­par­ing them for real life, when they will have to get up,” said ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee mem­ber Steve Kosher. “But peo­ple need to un­der­stand teens are not like adults bi­o­log­i­cally, it gets eas­ier, the older we get, to wake up ear­lier.”

Lack of ad­e­quate REM sleep pro­duces sev­eral neg­a­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal af­fects in­clud­ing grog­gi­ness, in­creased ag­gres­sion in­creased de­pres­sion, anxiety, re­duced abil­ity to learn and de­creased cre­ativ­ity the com­mit­tee’s re­port found.

Phys­i­cal af­fects of sleep de­pri­va­tion in­clude weight gain, in­creased re­lease of stress hor­mones, re­duc­tion of growth hor­mones and a weak­ened im­mune sys­tem.

“Get­ting more sleep is ac­tu­ally pro­tec­tion against the com­mon cold,” said Daniels.

Sleep de­pri­va­tion also leads to de­creased co­or­di­na­tion, mean­ing more ac­ci­dents and in­juries on the ath­letic field, as well as, when com­bined with grog­gi­ness, more ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing stu­dent driv­ers, the study found.

The re­verse is also true, she said. Teens who get more sleep, not only have fewer sports in­juries, “ath­letes are faster, stronger and bet­ter per­form­ers af­ter this kind of change,” Daniels told the board.

Dis­trict’s role

Bi­ol­ogy is not the only cause of sleep de­pri­va­tion among teens.

Use of “screens” also causes sleep de­pri­va­tion be­cause the “blue light” from cell phones, com­put­ers and other tech­nol­ogy mim­ics sun­light, con­fus­ing the body about what time it is, said Daniels.

That, com­bined with the “alerts” those de­vices is­sue, can keep stu­dents up un­til all hours. “Many of our stu­dents sleep with their phones un­der their pil­low so they don’t miss any­thing,” she said.

So while there are sev­eral causes and so­lu­tions to the teen sleep de­pri­va­tion prob­lem, only one is in con­trol of the school board, said vice pres­i­dent Eric Daugh­erty.

“We can put all the cell phones away and it still doesn’t fix the math prob­lem,” he said. “And the math prob­lem is bi­ol­ogy says our stu­dents aren’t go­ing to fall asleep be­fore 11. You can send them to bed at 9, but their bod­ies will not let them sleep be­fore 11, so the math prob­lem is get­ting those eight hours.”

Added Daugh­erty, “we’re the ones get­ting them up at 6 or 6:30. Even if you get the other stuff right, if we don’t do some­thing as a board, we’re the fac­tor lim­it­ing their sleep.”

In fact, Phoenixville High School’s start time of 7:24 a.m. is ear­lier than 90 per­cent of the na­tion.

School Board Pres­i­dent Lisa Longo said the board’s first pri­or­ity should be health, and the phys­i­cal and men­tal health as­pects of sleep de­pri­va­tion caused by ear­lier start times are trou­bling and were out­lined by sleep ex­pert Wendy Troxel’s pre­sen­ta­tion to the com­mu­nity in March.

“Na­tion­ally, we’re fac­ing an epi­demic of anxiety, de­pres­sion and teen sui­cide,” said Longo.

The pro­pos­als

Pre­sum­ing the school board de­cides to move ahead with mov­ing to later start times for mid­dle and high school stu­dents, sev­eral op­tions have been pre­sented, each of which comes with its own set of im­pacts on things like bus­ing, be­fore- and af­ter-school care, ath­let­ics, ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and more.

The com­mit­tee pre­sented three op­tions to the school board at the Nov. 13 meet­ing and the Phoenixville Area Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, the teach­ers union, pre­sented a fourth.

The three op­tions pre­sented by the com­mit­tee push starts times back by vary­ing de­grees from 44 to 91 min­utes.

They are:

• Con­cur­rent Start, the com­mit­tee’s rec­om­mended op­tion, with high school and mid­dle school start­ing at 8:30 and end­ing at 3:41 p.m., 64 min­utes later than the cur­rent start time. El­e­men­tary schools would start at 8:45 and end at 3:30, 15 min­utes later than the cur­rent el­e­men­tary start time.

The ben­e­fits of this op­tion in­clude a min­i­mal im­pact on el­e­men­tary school sched­ules, the start matches that rec­om­mended by the Amer­i­can Me­dial As­so­ci­a­tion, eas­ier lo­gis­tics for fam­i­lies. The down­side is that given that all stu­dents would be trans­ported at the same time, the in­creased bus­ing costs could be more than $1 mil­lion.

Schuylkill Town­ship res­i­dent John Mraz told the board that “if you’re go­ing to make these changes, the tax­pay­ers need to know what its go­ing to cost.”

• De­layed Start for All, with the high school and mid­dle school start­ing at 8:10 a.m. and end­ing at 3:21 p.m., 44 min­utes later than the cur­rent start times. El­e­men­tary schools would be­gin at 9 a.m. and end at 3:45 p.m., 30 min­utes later than the cur­rent el­e­men­tary start time.

The ad­van­tages of this op­tion in­clude in­creased sleep for all grade lev­els, that older stu­dents get home be­fore their younger sib­lings and it is the least dis­rup­tive to af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties. Down­sides in­clude not as much ad­di­tional sleep for teens as doc­tors rec­om­mend; more el­e­men­tary fam­i­lies may need be­fore-school care for their chil­dren and the lat­est el­e­men­tary bus drop-off would be at 4:45 p.m.

Schuylkill Town­ship res­i­dent Justin Clark told the school board that in­creased be­fore- and af­ter-school re­quire­ments could cost his fam­ily $400 a month. “I have two chil­dren and that adds up to $10,000 over the next four years. There are fam­i­lies in this com­mu­ni­ties for whom that cost could mean less food on the ta­ble.”

• Flip With De­lay, which has high school and mid­dle schools start­ing at 8:45 and end­ing at 3:56, 91 min­utes later than the cur­rent start time for sec­ondary stu­dents. El­e­men­tary schools would start at 8 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m.

Ben­e­fits of this op­tion in­clude the most ad­di­tional qual­ity sleep for sec­ondary stu­dents and re­duces the need for be­fore-care for el­e­men­tary fam­i­lies. Down­sides in­clude the neg­a­tive ef­fect the late end-time would have on ath­let­ics and afterschool ac­tiv­i­ties; el­e­men­tary stu­dents would be home be­fore their older sib­lings and the re­sult­ing af­ter-school care costs; ear­lier el­e­men­tary start could im­pact the sleep pat­terns of fifth graders, par­tic­u­larly girls, who may al­ready be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the bi­o­log­i­cal changes that re­quire later sleep in the morn­ing.

• Teach­ers Pro­posal, would push mid­dle and high school start times to 8:05 a.m. with an end time of 3 p.m. El­e­men­tary schools would start at 8:55 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.

Teach­ers Michael Don­nelly and Eric Rutchauskas de­scribed the plan pre­sented by the Phoenixville Area Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion as a com­pro­mised with the com­mit­tee’s “de­layed start for all” pro­posal.

Their pro­posal also in­cludes an “ad­justed bell sched­ule,” which makes classes two min­utes shorter, a time sav­ings which adds up to 11 min­utes over the course of a full school day.

Rutchauskas cited a 2014 stu­dent that showed a start time of just 25 min­utes later would re­sult in an in­crease in stu­dents get­ting eight hours of sleep from 18 per­cent to 44 per­cent. Their pro­posal, which pushes start times back by 30 min­utes, has “min­i­mal im­pact” on bus­ing, ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties and child-care con­cerns, he said.

Their pro­posal also calls on par­ents to im­pose a rule stop­ping elec­tronic de­vice us­age an hour to two hours be­fore sleep, in or­der to max­i­mize the ad­di­tional sleep time.

None of these pro­pos­als is writ­ten in stone and Don­nelly told the board the teach­ers are happy to make ad­just ments to their pro­posal as the dis­trict, board or com­mu­nity re­quires.

“These are not com­pet­ing plans,” said school board mem­ber Kevin Pat­tin­son. “We are all look­ing at the same topic try­ing to fig­ure out what is best for our stu­dents and the dis­trict.”

What’s next?

Longo said the board has many things to con­sider at the mo­ment, but still wants to hear more in­put from the com­mu­nity be­fore mov­ing for­ward.

To­ward that end, three ad­di­tional com­mu­nity fo­rums on the sleep is­sue and start times have been sched­uled in the com­ing months. They are:

• Tues­day, Nov. 27, at 6:30 p.m. in the high school cafe­te­ria;

• Thurs­day, Dec. 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the cafe­te­ria of Bar­ley El­e­men­tary School;

• Tues­day, Jan. 8, 2019, at 6:30 p.m. in the mid­dle school cafe­te­ria.

Phoenixville Su­per­in­ten­dent Alan Fe­g­ley urged those plan­ning to at­tend to go to the school dis­trict web­site — http://www.pasd.com/com­mu­nity/sleep­_­ex­plo­ration — and reg­is­ter, both so the dis­trict can plan for how many will be there, and also to be able to plan to make Span­ish and Por­tuguese in­ter­preters avail­able for those who need them.

Ques­tions and in­put about the is­sue can be emailed to the sleep ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee at start&end­[email protected] pasd.com.

Longo also urged Phoenixville to learn lessons from the Unionville-Chadd’s Ford School Dis­trict, which changed to later start times this year, and has al­ready be­gun to no­tice ben­e­fits.

In the mean­time, board mem­ber Christo­pher Cal­t­a­girone urged that the dis­cus­sion be­gin to in­clude more date and im­pacts on el­e­men­tary age stu­dents.

“It feels like much of the data and at­ten­tion in these dis­cus­sions are on the mid­dle school and high school and I’ve heard from el­e­men­tary par­ents that they don’t feel like their con­cerns are be­ing taken into ac­count,” he told the board.

If the board wants the com­mu­nity to get on board with what­ever pro­posal is cho­sen “we need to make sure we ex­plain what the ben­e­fits for the el­e­men­tary fam­i­lies are,” he said.

But the change should be made, said Phoenixville High School fresh­man Leo Sereni, who also serves on the sleep ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee.

Not­ing that stu­dents he has spo­ken with on the sub­ject seem “hes­i­tant” about the change, but he also noted that he sees stu­dents “fall­ing asleep in first pe­riod.”

“Some­times, what peo­ple want is not what they need,” said Sereni, adding that “great change never comes with min­i­mal chal­lenge.”

PHOTO FROM SCREEN SHOT

The school board was shown re­search in­di­cat­ing that 90 per­cent of high schools na­tion­wide have a later start time than Phoenixville High School’s start time of 7:24 a.m.

PHOTO FROM SCREEN SHOT

This chart shows that, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey, only 22 per­cent of Phoenixville High School stu­dents get enough sleep each night.

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