Education

Davis teen students to get more sleep by starting school later

Trustees on Thursday night asked Davis Joint Unified School District staff to plan for school start times of about 8:30 a.m. for junior high and high school students by the 2017-18 academic year. The change could give the district’s high school students up to 45 extra minutes to get ready in the morning.
Trustees on Thursday night asked Davis Joint Unified School District staff to plan for school start times of about 8:30 a.m. for junior high and high school students by the 2017-18 academic year. The change could give the district’s high school students up to 45 extra minutes to get ready in the morning. lsterling@sacbee.com

Davis Joint Unified School District has joined a growing list of districts nationwide instituting later morning start times so that teen students can get more sleep.

Trustees on Thursday night asked the district staff to plan for school start times of about 8:30 a.m. for junior high and high school students by the 2017-18 academic year, said spokeswoman Maria Clayton. The change could give the district’s high school students up to 45 extra minutes to get ready in the morning.

The concept of letting teen students sleep longer galvanized board members after the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 called insufficient sleep in adolescents an important public health issue. The academy urged high schools and middle schools to aim for start times that allow students to get an optimal 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night.

Since then, an increasing number of schools around the country have taken up the cause. The board of Seattle Public Schools voted last month to move start times later for high school and many middle school students starting next fall, citing findings from groups such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Sleep Foundation. And the website www.startschoollater.net lists a half dozen districts in California that have later schedules. Scores more districts nationally also have moved to later opening bells, according to the website.

The benefits are improved academic performance, working memory, physical and mental health.

Madhavi Sunder, president, Davis Joint Unified School District board

In Davis, trustee Madhavi Sunder, installed as board president Thursday night, said the decision was the product of 10 months of work by staff, teachers, students, community members, public health and sleep experts, and pediatricians.

“The research is overwhelming in showing the positive benefits of moving school start times to about 8:30 a.m. for teens,” Sunder said. “The benefits are improved academic performance, working memory, physical and mental health.

“Kids who don’t get enough sleep are more prone to depression, obesity and driving accidents. And that’s why we’re doing this. It all starts with a good night’s sleep.”

Precise times have not been established. But for Da Vinci Charter Academy, a high school, and for Davis High, the change will delay the start time by about 45 minutes. Opening bells for the district’s four junior highs also will sound later in the morning, in some cases by less than a half hour.

Clayton said junior high schedules will also be better aligned with one another to accommodate students who take classes at more than one junior high.

The district began studying the idea and collecting feedback in February. That work produced the board’s unanimous directive to the staff with planning guidelines.

Clayton said the staff was asked to allow the end of school instruction for Da Vinci Charter High and Davis High to remain the same, concluding at 3:30 p.m. Sunder said that preserves after-school activities such as sports, music and theater.

“We know that’s important to kids and families,” she said. “We didn’t want to give that up.”

Staff members are expected to return with recommendations in February 2017 about scheduling strategies that can save time without sacrificing instruction. For example, classes could meet less often but for longer periods.

Trustees also asked the staff to retain the seven-period format in junior high schools.

“They’re looking at the different things they can do,” Clayton said. “They’ll explore other districts who have done some creative thinking.”

For now, Clayton said, start times of about 8:30 a.m. are expected to remain unchanged at elementary schools.

A community awareness campaign also will continue “to share information about research and the importance of sleep for adolescents,” she said.

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