Earlier School Start Times Bring Changes for Families in the New School Year

Thursday, September 11, 2014, 3:18 pm
Rebecca J. McAndrews

Families with children in East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS) have encountered many changes in the 2014-2015 school year, including an earlier start time for high school students. Students now begin their classes at 7:45 am and end at 2:46 pm, a shift that is approximately 15 minutes earlier than previous years. Middle school students start at 8:05 am, finishing at 3:05pm, while elementary aged children don’t begin their school day until 8:45am.

Catherine Lindell, an East Lansing resident and mother of ELPS students Madeline, age 15, and Hugh, age 12, indicates her family is feeling the strain of an earlier wake up call. Her sentiments echo the most recent statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which recommends “middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30am or later.” The AAP states “doing so will align school schedules to the biological rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.”

Poor academic performance isn’t the only negative effect of sleep deprivation cited by the AAP; studies show a correlation between a decrease in sleep and an increase in automobile accidents, physical, and mental health problems in teenagers. “Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – health issues in the U.S. today,” said AAP member and pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP.

In a letter dated August 12, 2014, Robyne Thompson, ELPS Superintendent, “intended to provide clarification and rational” for schedule changes adopted by the Board of Education on July 31. One reason listed for the schedule adjustment was the State School Aid Act, which now requires that students receive 175 days of instructional time in a given school year, instead of the previously required 173. This same act no longer allows teachers’ professional development time to count as instructional time for students. Thompson indicated a larger student population at the middle school (with the 2014-2015 addition of sixth grade) would need more time to enter and exit the building. Also transportation and bussing issues necessitated a larger gap between high school and middle school start times.

Lindell is still hopeful ELPS can eventually follow the AAP’s recommendation for a later start time in the future. She notes, “We are a resourceful and creative community and I’m confident that, by keeping the best interests of the students in mind, we could come up with ways to have a later start time at [East Lansing High School].” 

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