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More schools hit the snooze button on starting times

“Five more minutes.”

Every parent who’s ever attempted the herculean task of getting their kids up for school has heard these words. The timeless foot dragging and impassioned protests drive parents and teachers nuts. But mounting research suggests such procrastinations might also be justified, especially in the case of hard-to-wake teenagers.

A new report from the National Sleep Foundation says that teens need at least nine hours of sleep on average to achieve optimal mental performance.

For school leaders, such research marks an important guidepost in the heated, and seemingly endless, debate about school start times. The latest findings, coupled with candid input from parents and students, are fueling renewed calls among the nation’s school leaders, parents, and others for a later morning bell.

The sleep struggle is real
In addition to poor performance in school, sleep deprivation is linked to serious health and emotional issues, such as depression and obesity—plus, safety concerns such as drowsy driving and substance abuse.

The National Sleep Foundation study is just the latest in a string of reports highlighting the benefits of sleep among teens. A study of more than 9,000 students at the University of Minnesota revealed that later start times often led to higher academic test scores. While similar studies found that later school start times also led to reductions in student tardiness and discipline.

Mounting evidence compelled the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics to weigh in on this issue. Both organizations recently issued statements urging K12 schools to implement later start times.

Student sleep advocate Terra Ziporyn Snider dubbed the change a necessity. “We have to convince school systems this has to happen for the health of kids,” she told The Atlantic for a recent story on the issue. “It’s not a negotiable school budget item—it’s an absolute requirement.”

A head start on later start times
Some districts have already started to push start times back. In Seattle, school board officials voted in November to start select middle and high schools at 8:45 a.m.

While many parents and teachers are on board with the change, the Seattle Times reports that there are lingering community concerns about how later start times will impact after-school and extra-curricular activities in the district.

Such concerns are important, and they highlight the importance of community input ahead of critical district decisions. To ensure community support for later start times, school board officials in Seattle created a taskforce to address concerns and develop a systematic implementation strategy.

Time will tell whether later school start times will keep students from hitting the snooze button while also boosting school performance.

Considering a new start time for your school or district? What plans do you have in place to engage parents and students for a smooth transition? Tell us in the comments.

Looking for a way to include community input in your decisions? A comprehensive survey of parents, students and teachers is worth a look.