Teens will do better in school if they are allowed to sleep later, task forces in Melrose and Newburyport are saying.
The Melrose School Committee voted to shift the start times at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School and Melrose High School to 8:15 a.m. — from 7:40 and 7:45 a.m. respectively — beginning in the fall of 2017. The committee simultaneously voted earlier start times at the district’s five elementary schools, changing from 8:15 to 8:03 a.m.
A second School Committee vote on the issue, required for the schedule change to go into effect, is scheduled for April 12.
In Newburyport, the School Committee is weighing a proposal that would allow the district’s older students an extra hour of sleep in the hope that more rest will translate into better grades and overall health.
For the past few months, members of a task force charged with drafting a proposal have been examining the impact later start times at the middle and high schools would have on students, sports schedules, and busing.
“We’re not alone in looking at this issue,” said Newburyport School Committee member Bruce Menin. “There are a number of other districts that are talking about this.”
A Late Start Task Force in Melrose had concluded that based on sleep-pattern research, an 8:30 a.m. start time would be optimal for secondary students.
Melrose addressed the change after superintendents from across the Middlesex League signed a letter agreeing to pursue later start times to ensure student athletes don’t have to miss class time to attend games.
Both the US Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics have urged schools to delay start times for older students to 8:30 a.m. or later so more would get the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of rest. They cited significant risks that come with chronic sleep loss, including higher rates of obesity and depression.
In a policy statement released in August 2014, the pediatric group noted that adjusting start times would “align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.”
“Changing the start times, it makes a lot of sense,” said Menin of Newburyport, father to a high school junior and a college freshman. “Research shows it’s really useful, but there are two problems: the additional busing costs, which jump up by increments of $40,000 per bus, and whether regional sports can adapt to a later schedule.”
According to task force member Tara Sullivan, who looked at game and meet schedules from the past year, there were only a few instances where a later start time would have caused an issue. As they draft their proposal, the Newburyport task force will be meeting with other districts in the Cape Ann League in hopes of solving any scheduling issues.
A final report is expected to be presented to the School Committee this spring. That report will address the bus and sports schedules and include recommendations for implementing a later start time, Sullivan said. She noted that any changes to the schedule are not likely to go into effect until the 2017-2018 school year.
At Newburyport High School, students start classes at 7:30 a.m. “I think moving the start time an hour or so later would be realistic,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan and fellow parent Alexandra Coir have been pushing for later school start times in Newburyport for more than a year. The effort gained traction last fall, when the task force was formed and a group of Newburyport parents formed a local chapter of the nationally recognized Start School Later initiative.
The local initiatives mirror a statewide effort. State Senator Cynthia Creem of Newton has introduced a bill to establish a task force that would review the effect of later school start times for middle and secondary school students.
If a statewide model is embraced, districts interested in making the change would have an easier transition.
“Studies have shown that teenagers need a little more sleep,” Menin said. “My belief is that school districts should make that accommodation.”
Brenda J. Buote may be reached at email@example.com.