Bucks IU Holds a Forum on School Start Time

The Bucks County Intermediate Unit (Bucks IU) host­ed a forum to review and dis­cuss the results of a study com­mis­sioned by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on “Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents: The Case for Delaying Secondary School Start Times.”  Organized by the Bucks IU, the forum was held on Tuesday, October 22, 2019 to fol­low the pub­lish­ing of the report just days pri­or. Over 45 peo­ple, from through­out Bucks and sur­round­ing coun­ties, were in atten­dance with the event also live-streamed to sev­er­al oth­er region­al organizations/school dis­tricts.  The forum’s pre­sen­ters, both from the Joint State Government Commission of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, were Glenn Pasewicz, Executive Director, and Yvonne Hursch, Counsel. 

The report was the result of an Advisory Committee of the state’s Joint Commission that was assem­bled to inves­ti­gate and research this top­ic of sec­ondary school start times. The Advisory Committee was made up of an impres­sive cross-section of inter­est­ed par­ties such esteemed researchers from The Pennsylvania State University and RAND Corporation, school bus trans­porta­tion direc­tors, med­ical pro­fes­sion­als (both phys­i­cal and men­tal health), ath­let­ic direc­tors, the Bucks IU Executive Director, pub­lic and pri­vate school rep­re­sen­ta­tives, lead­ers from both urban and rur­al schools dis­tricts, and even a high school stu­dent from a dis­trict that has shift­ed to a lat­er start time.

The study uncov­ered and detailed the ben­e­fits of a lat­er start time for stu­dents specif­i­cal­ly in the 13–17 age brack­et.   During this time in a youth’s devel­op­ment their sleep needs tem­porar­i­ly, but sig­nif­i­cant­ly, change due to puber­ty and a shift in the pro­duc­tion of mela­tonin.  The cit­ed research from the report indi­cat­ed that by allow­ing these stu­dents to start their school day lat­er, with 8:30am hav­ing been found to be opti­mal, these stu­dents can not only get more sleep, but they can get bet­ter sleep.  Improved sleep has been shown to pos­i­tive­ly impact:

  • School per­for­mance: cog­ni­tive func­tion, grad­u­a­tion rates, atten­dance, tar­di­ness
  • Behavioral Health: self-esteem, risky behav­ior, crime and delin­quen­cy
  • Safety: motor vehi­cle acci­dents, ath­let­ic injuries
  • Mental health: affect and mood, anx­i­ety, depres­sion, sui­cide
  • Physical health: car­diometa­bol­ic dis­ease risk, immune sys­tem com­pro­mise

The report sug­gest that schools/districts will need to take the sci­ence, data, and research pro­vid­ed to review in rela­tion to their own unique needs and indi­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ty.   Factors they may need to con­sid­er in rela­tion to this include areas such as trans­porta­tion, employ­ee con­tracts that may spec­i­fy work­ing hours, finan­cial con­sid­er­a­tions, after-school activ­i­ties (e.g. clubs and sports), traf­fic flow and tim­ing, stu­dent employ­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties and work hours, and avail­able child­care. 

There are cur­rent­ly 25 school dis­tricts in the state who have adjust­ed their sec­ondary school start times to lat­er.  The pre­sen­ters sug­gest­ed that these schools and dis­tricts could be used as valu­able resources as oth­ers begin, or con­tin­ue, to con­sid­er mak­ing changes in their sec­ondary school start times.