American children do not get enough sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Teenagers in particular need sleep; lots of it, according to the medical research. The problem is their bodies don’t always want to hit the sack early, making it difficult to rise in the morning. This leads to early morning high school classes with bobble-head students nodding in and out of a snooze. Part of the problem is most high schools (including those Northshore School District) have a 7 a.m. start time, earlier if the student is taking a first period class.
That may be changing if a new national petition gets enough signatures to make lawmakers pay attention to the issue. Spearheaded by Terra Snider, a medical writer and mom of teenagers, the petition needs 1,000 signatures to be delivered to legislators in Washington DC, currently there are 953, according to Snider. So far, many Eastsiders have signed the petition, including 18 from Woodinville.
Evidence has been mounting that students function better in school with later start times since a landmark study out of the University of Minnesota in 2002. The study (see PDF) showed students did significantly better when school began after 8 a.m. A more recent study from the Brookings Institute confirmed those findings showing that students who had early start times performed worse throughout the say than their peers who started school later in the morning.
Snider said she began her campaign for a later start time in her home county in Maryland more than a decade ago, with little luck.
“I eventually gave up my personal battle as I came to understand that every time the issue is raised locally, the result is raging controversy--and, almost inevitably, politics, money, and myth win out over children's best interests,” Snider wrote in an email to Woodinville Patch. She’s now taken the issue onto the Internet in the hopes that it will gain national attention.
Many school districts, including Northshore, do not have the multiple fleets of buses that could handle later start times for all schools. If the high schools and junior highs start later, elementary schools will have to start earlier. Snider acknowledges that there are obstacles and possible upfront costs to the later start time.
“None of that justifies sending children to school at times that are now known to be counterproductive and dangerous (again, see the Brookings study),” Snider wrote. “One of the reasons the petition asks for a bare minimum of 8 a.m., which is still too early for older kids, is to avoid having to send little kids to school in the dark (switching elementary and high school start times is often proposed as the no-cost way to send high school kids to school later). Our contention is that once a community accepts that their start times are dangerous and counterproductive, they can and will find ways to resolve this issue, even if it means sacrificing something else.”
To read or sign the petition, click here. Here is the breakdown as of Nov. 30, of which Eastside communities are represented on the petition:
Mill Creek: 4
Thrasher's Corner: 3
Mercer Island: 1