Backgrounder: Later School Start Times

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can vary greatly in their priorities and values; factors to consider include bell schedules of elementary and middle schools; transportation; athletic programs and extracurricular activities; use of schools for community activities; student employment; and safety issues for younger students who either may be waiting for a bus in the dark or need supervision of older siblings after school. There are also safety issues for older students, since violent activities, sex, recreational use of alcohol or drugs, and criminal and other risky behaviors frequently occur between 2 and 4 pm, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is also important that any consideration of a school start time change takes into account the impact on families, including transportation, dependence on teens’ income, chores and other family responsibilities, and teens’ mood and behavior at home.

Changing a school’s start time involves a wide array of people--parents, teachers, students, principals, school boards, superintendents, counselors and healthcare professionals, among others. The impact is felt at a community level, but it is also felt individually, and the individuals who are affected need to have their views heard and acknowledged so that discussions can move forward in search of common ground.

Obviously, moving bell times is one major step in a larger picture of ensuring that adolescents get the sleep they need. It will not put more hours in the day, so it is important for teens to know about their sleep needs and have the skills to make a conscious effort to get a good night’s sleep. Many teens assume they are expected to function with a lack of sleep, but sleep is not optional; it is biologically necessary. If sleep is incorporated into educational efforts, teens will be armed with information that will enable them to use a later school start time to their advantage.