Start High School Later in Chesterfield County, Virginia
We, the undersigned, request that Chesterfield County Public Schools create a daily schedule with reasonable start times for all students. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2014 urging high school and middle school start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m., a position supported by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the National Association of School Nurses, and the Society of Pediatric Nurses, based on consistent and compelling science.
Bus routes in CCPS begin pick up at 5:40 a.m. CCPS high school students who are not asleep by 8:30 pm are not getting the amount of sleep consistently recommended by health providers and are in state of chronic sleep deprivation. The American Academy of Pediatrics has called school start times the most "salient" and "malleable" influence on adolescents' sleep patterns. The following data support their position:
- FACT: Hormones regulating sleep make it difficult for teens (compared with adults and younger children) to fall asleep before 11 p.m. These same hormones make it very difficult for teens to wake and be alert in the early morning. Melatonin peaks at around 7:00 a.m. for adolescents and at 4:00 a.m. for adults. Waking a teenager at 7:00 a.m. is biologically similar to waking an adult at 4:00 a.m.
- FACT: Multiple studies have documented substantially higher rates of car accidents involving teen drivers in counties with early start times, including a study comparing Chesterfield and Henrico. These are not just early morning fender benders, but collisions consistent with teens falling asleep at the wheel and driving off the road throughout the day.
- FACT: Sleep debt affects teens’ ability to think, perform, and react appropriately. High school teachers report very low alertness in the first classes of the day. Similarly, elementary teachers report that their students are too tired to learn optimally later in the afternoon, but are very alert in the morning. Changing start times would be more consistent with all students' biological rhythms.
- FACT: Well respected research consistently shows that the avoidable harm caused by sleep deprivation in adolescents includes:
- lower academic achievement
- lower standardized test scores
- poorer school attendance
- higher dropout rates
- lower motivation
- increased depression, higher use of non-prescribed stimulant medications (ADHD medications used by adolescents without ADHD)
- impairments in attention
- higher rates of sports injury
- increased obesity rates over a lifetime
- FACT: CCPS high school students are dismissed at 1:50 p.m. under the current schedule. Many are in unsupervised situations all afternoon. Studies show that teens with more unsupervised time out of school are more likely to use marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco, and use them in greater amounts.
- FACT: Changing high school start times works. Districts that have made the change have documented results including:
- Students sleep more. They do not simply delay their bedtimes.
- Car accidents decrease by 70%.
- Test scores increase, with the greatest gains for the lowest-performing students.
- Decreased dropout rates
- Decreased tardiness
- Improved attendance
- GPA improvements
- Decreases in depression, substance abuse, and sleepiness
- Fewer disciplinary referrals
- Teachers reported greater student productivity and increased motivation throughout the day.
- After one year, 92% of parents preferred the later start time; parents noted decreased moodiness and improved interactions with their teens.
Delaying high school start times is a public health imperative.
Numerous experts in health and safety have called for delayed high school start times, including the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the National Sleep Foundation, the U.S. Education Secretary, and the CCPS Health and Wellness Committee.
We are aware that there are challenges to making this change, including adjustments to work and sports schedules, and transportation. However, many other districts, including those larger than CCPS, have successfully done so, for the benefit of students. CCPS remains one of a very small (and shrinking) minority of districts in the country that starts high school before 7:30 a.m.
We believe that the educational and safety needs of CCPS students should be the highest priority of the School Board and urge them to act to find solutions to logistical or scheduling problems that conflict with a more rational schedule.
We urge the Chesterfield County School Board and the Board of Supervisors to act by the 2017-2018 academic year to make this important change on behalf of our students.