Backgrounder: Later School Start Times

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Safety Administration, which estimates that up to 100,000 police-reported crashes annually are related to drowsiness, and that among drivers age 15-24, more than 1,500 fatalities each year are associated with such crashes. In a North Carolina state study, 55% of fall asleep crashes involved drivers 25 years old or younger.

Thus, unstable wakefulness and lapses in attention are not just detrimental to performance, like students missing an important piece of information from a teacher—they can also be dangerous, such as a sleepy driver missing a stop sign and causing a fatal accident.

Collaborating in the Best Interests of Students

Many schools across the country are working to synchronize school clocks with students’ body clocks, so that teens are in school during their most alert hours and can achieve their full academic potential. Working to bring school start times in line with teens’ sleep needs presents a number of challenges and opportunities. Individual communities 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