School and Sleep

This weekend Ars Technica had a nice review of a new book released this summer, “The Sleep Deprived Teen” about school start times. I haven’t read the book, but the article provides a nice summary of the book’s familiar main points. For instance, here are some of the benefits of later school start times.

For instance, studies show that well-rested teens learn better. Their grades, attendance, and graduation rates go up. Athletic performance and recovery improve. Later school start times have reduced teen driving in the afternoon (because the kids are still in school), dropping the number of after-school car crashes. Getting enough sleep can also help decrease crime, not only by protecting against susceptibility to peer pressure and reducing risky behavior, but also because teens have less “unstructured socializing” with their friends around 3 to 4 pm, a time when lots of problems occur. More sleep lowers teens’ suicide risk.

The book also has a section on advocacy,

While all that information is helpful for parents and students alike, the book devotes special attention to the heart of the problem—how to advocate for changing school start times. For potential readers—parents and grandparents, teachers and students, doctors and mental health experts—Lewis describes how to talk to administrators and lawmakers and lists possible obstacles. She details how California became the first state to pass a law requiring public high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 am, and middle schools no earlier than 8 am.

In 2019 WSSD recruited parents for a sleep task force. Then, the pandemic happened, which delayed the work the task force started. Since then, however, turnover has removed all the main drivers of this work from the district – the school board members and administrators advocating this change have left since 2019. At the current rate, its likely even many of the task force parents whose children attend the district will also have graduated before changes are made. If your student entered the high school the year this process began, they’ll be graduating this year. This past year, there was a follow-up presentation to restart the sleep/school start time work. But, with so many other priorities in the district, it doesn’t seem to be moving forward rapidly.

The science is clear that the district’s current schedule is harmful to children. We know this, and yet…it’s still that way. This is not unique to this district, and looking at the comments shows many have the same experience in school districts across America. The very first comment to the article sums it up succinctly,

This comes as no surprise – Nothing about high school is about the needs of teenagers.

Categories: WSSD