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.