CDC Report Supports FCPS Findings on Teens and Sleep

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.

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