CDC Report Supports FCPS Findings on Teens and Sleep

by Karen Goff August 10, 2015 at 3:00 pm 1 Comment

South Lakes High SchoolA report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control backs up what some Fairfax County Public Schools parents and students have been saying for years: That high school and middle schools start too early.

The CDC looked at data from 40,000 schools in the 2011-12 school year. In a report issued last week, the CDC said it found that fewer than 1 in 5 middle and high schools in the U.S. began the school day at the recommended 8:30 AM start time.

Schools that have a start time of 8:30 AM or later allow adolescent students the opportunity to get the recommended amount of sleep on school nights: about 8.5 to 9.5 hours, says the CDC.

Insufficient sleep is common among high school students and is associated with several health risks such as being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and using drugs – as well as poor academic performance. The proportion of high school students who fail to get sufficient sleep (2 out of 3) has remained steady since 2007, according to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Report.

“Getting enough sleep is important for students’ health, safety, and academic performance,” said Anne Wheaton, Ph.D., lead author and epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Population Health. “Early school start times, however, are preventing many adolescents from getting the sleep they need.”

Those statements pretty much echo what experts from Children’s National Medical Center told FCPS in a study two years ago, as well as an American Academy of Pediatrics study from 2014.

After several years of discussion and community meetings, FCPS’ board voted in fall 2014 to go forward with bell schedule changes, which will go into effect for the 2015-16 school year.

High schools, which used to start at 7:20 a.m., will now begin between 8 and 8:10 a.m. Middle schools, which used to begin after 8 a.m., will not start at 7:30 a.m. Elementary schools remain mostly unchanged.

The new bell schedule has met with a mix of feedback. Some residents say it is not really solving the problem as young teens in middle school still have to get up very early to catch a bus. FCPS board members have said since middle school is only two years, it was a more tenable plan.

Others have criticized the expense of the program, which will cost about $5 million to put in place, even as programs such as sports, arts and busing to Advanced Academic Programs are in danger of being cut as the school system faces a projected massive shortfall.

To read more details of the CDC study, visit the CDC website.

  • Arielle in NoVA

    Originally, I thought swapping the order of middle school and high school starts would work fine, as I thought both would have been pushed a little later when the change was being made (ie. middle schools starting around 8, high schools starting around 8:30, elementary schools starting around 9). I didn’t think they were going to have kids going from, say, an 8:15 bus/8:40 start in elementary school one year (6th) to a 7:20am bus/7:50am start in middle school (7th) to a 7am bus/7:30 start this year (8th) to a late 7: or early 8:something bus/8:something start next year (9th) and then more changes, possibly, in the years to follow as the later schedule is adjusted.

    I like that the high-schoolers can start later – kids getting a bus before 7am is ridiculous, especially in the dark in the middle of the winter. School starts have been delayed on several days in the past couple of winters to give the air time to warm up enough for buses to start; the later start will lessen the need for these delays. No objections there.

    I do NOT like that the middle-schoolers now have to do just that: get earlier buses. They’re less likely than the high-schoolers to be responsible enough to get themselves up and out on time, which means parents have to do more, earlier: for example, kids whose parents have to drive them every day because they’re taking a special program that’s not at their base school. They’re less likely to be able to wait safely at their bus stops – or walk to school safely – before dawn. Yes, our grandparents and great-grandparents probably walked to school in the dark. There were more kids walking and fewer drivers then, and the kids were more used to walking lots of places than they’re allowed to now with helicopter neighbors.

    Another issue that my upper-grade high-schooler pointed out: this means a lot of teens will be driving to school at the time younger kids are walking to their schools. More potential for tragic accidents. I suppose this would be the case either before or after school with just about any school schedule, but it’s something the county might want to think about when choosing the exact starting times for schools in the same part of the county.


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