A recent two year long study done by the University of Washington shows that having later high school start-times boosts grades and attendance. And in 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle and high schools delay their start-times to 8:30 a.m. or later.
However, according to the National Center For Education Statistics, only 17% of public middle and high schools follow this suggestion. They also reported that less than 10% of American high schools start before 7:30.
Leon County high schools start at 7:30—a time which is far too early, according to studies.
This early start time was approved in 2009 when the Leon County school board okayed new start times for all schools in an attempt to provide consistency. Before the change there were 18 different start times among Leon County schools.
Recently, Seattle decided to follow the advice of health experts by changing the start-time of its schools from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. The University of Washington studied high school students in Seattle over a two-year period, before and after this start-time change. The change allowed students to get an average of 34 more minutes of sleep, boosting total average sleep from 6 hours and 50 minutes to 7 hours and 24 minutes. Median grades went up 4.5%, and absences and tardiness decreased.
Citing this study, Orange County, home to Orlando, discussed applying a start-time change, but “school leaders have whined” about the costs of making this shift. One district would need $7.7 million for new buses and up to $5 million to operate annually. Though this may sound like a lot of money, the $7.7 million only accounts for .15% of this district’s annual budget of $4.5 billion.
Scott Maxwell, a journalist for the Orlando Sentinel wrote the “inaction has not only frustrated parents, but also community leaders such as Jim McIlrath, an Orlando attorney who served 12 years on the board of the school district’s foundation. ‘I just think it’s ludicrous that we’re lagging behind the more progressive school districts in spite of all the scientific evidence,’ McIlrath said.”
“In Orange County, we like to be a leader in everything we do,” said new board member Karen Castor Dentel. “But we’re lagging in this. And it’s inexcusable.”
So what about Leon County Schools?
When Leon County School Board member Alva Striplin was contacted by TR about the issue, she said “I hope to see our district move to two school start times in the 2019-2020 school year. Not only would it benefit our high school students who would get an extra half hour of sleep by moving high school start time from 7:30 am to 8:00 am, it would also benefit middle school parents by moving middle school start time from 9:30 am to 9:00 am.”
Striplin also said that concerns about the substantial cost of adding buses and drivers to make any change a reality has been an obstacle to being able to consolidate school start times from three to two.
However, Striplin said “a recent transportation audit which revealed less than 40% of our students ride the bus, has led to more efficient bus routes which should enable us to now discuss transitioning to two school start times.”