Reflection: Proposed School Start Times & Change.org Petition

Reflection: Unintended Consequences of Changing School Start Times 

by Paolo Provenzano, RHS Parent

The PTA board extends our sincere thanks to Paolo Provenzano for the thoughtful and organized discussion regarding the proposed SPPS start time change at our October PTA meeting. We, as a PTA, have not taken a position on this matter due to lack of member vote but our mission supports keeping our school community informed. 

SAVE-THE-DATE: An open forum discussion will be held in the RHS cafetorium on Monday, October 24 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. The intent is to share more information with our school community about the proposed changes. Please watch for an email with more information and link to RSVP. This event will be open to any SPPS family.

I have created a Change.org petition that summarizes much of what I discussed in the PTA meeting on Monday, October 17:

https://www.change.org/p/communications-spps-org-don-t-change-elementary-school-start-times-in-st-paul
As it was necessary to be succinct, there are few elements that I could not include.  Two things in particular that are useful are experts from one of the main studies I discussed.  Please make these available along with the link to the paper(https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/edu-a0037195.pdf):

“…earlier start times were related to poorer test scores, lower school rank, and more student absences. These findings are consistent with previous research (Epstein et al., 1998; Wahlstrom, 2002; Wolfson et al., 2007). The relationship between earlier start times and poorer academic performance may be explained by the physical, behavioral, and psychological ramifications of sleep deprivation…. Students may therefore lose the ability to remain alert and focused in the classroom (Durmer & Dinges, 2005; Epstein et al., 1998). Sleep deprivation increases hyperactivity and behavioral dysregulation, impairing students’ academic functioning (Dworak et al., 2007; Beebe, 2011; Wolfson & Carskadon, 1998). Sleep problems are also associated with asthma (Kakkar & Berry, 2009), compromised cardiovascular health (Cappuccio, Cooper, D’Elia, Strazzullo, & Miller, 2011), gastrointestinal problems (Chen, Liu, Yi, & Orr, 2011), and re-duced effectiveness of the immune system (Bryant, Trinder, &Curtis, 2004; Irwin et al., 1996)”.

AND

“Of particular concern is that the growing public support for delaying middle and high school start times is often at the expense of making elementary school start times earlier. Indeed, this has already occurred in two counties in Kentucky (Fayette and Jessa- mine; National Sleep Foundation, 2005a, 2005b). This is often done in order to preserve staggered bus scheduling (Kirby et al., 2011). Our findings suggest that these policy changes may simply be shifting the problem from adolescents to younger children, instead of eliminating it altogether.”

As I mentioned at the October PTA meeting, unfortunately the research on elementary school children appears to be profoundly more limited than the data available for middle school, high school, and college students. However, the limited data available that I have found suggests that sleep is at least as important in elementary school children as older kids.  In particular, the additional studies I discussed examine sleep and start time and child behavior / performance in schools.  Two examples can be found here:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022096516300042
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=27198945

If you want to examine this literature you can do so by accessing a database maintained by the National Institutes of Health (www.pubmed.com) and running searches such as (elementary school sleep time) and (insufficient sleep children) etc.  Additionally, there is a large body of scientific work related to family time (including meal time) and playtime and how these strongly impact physical and mental well being in children.

Alternatively, If you would like to examine some resources that are not scientific publications you may consider include:

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/eight-major-obstacles-delaying-school-start-times/
http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/06/school-start-times.aspx

SPPS School Board info: http://www.spps.org/starttimes

Discussion at school board meeting on Tuesday, October 25; VOTE at school board meeting on Tuesday, November 15.

For more information or questions, please visit the SPPS website link above or email info@rhs-pta.org.

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