USD 383 not likely to change start times for teens, despite new recommendation from pediatric group

By Bethany Knipp

Pediatricians might recommend teenagers get more sleep with later school start times, but the local school district does not appear to intend to change them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy statement on Monday recommending that high school and middle school students start class at 8:30 a.m. or later. That would better align with their sleep cycles, which make it difficult for teens to fall sleep before 11 p.m., according to the AAP.

But a multitude of factors have kept the Manhattan-Ogden school district from starting classes for older students later in the day.

Currently, the high school starts at 7:40, while Anthony and Eisenhower middle schools start at 7:50.

Elementary schools start between 8:25 and 8:45.

“Our elementary schools start late and our secondary schools start early,” said Carol Adams, the USD 383 director of teaching and learning. “There’s a lot of factors that play into that.”

Those include the number and schedule of buses that transport students.

“Right now we have a two-tiered system with high school and middle school going at the same time and twice,” transportation director Doug Messer said. Elementary students are picked up in one round, he said.

“If we would flip-flop them, there wouldn’t be an increased cost with that,” Messer said. However, he said, “If we were to run all of the routes at the same time, the district would essentially need to double the number of buses.”

That, and Adams said parents don’t want their elementary school kids waiting for buses as early as 6:30 a.m. in the dark and in the cold during winter months. That would happen if the start times between elementary and secondary schools were switched, something that the Manhattan-Odgen Board of Education discussed two years ago.

Adams said younger kids need sleep, too. The AAP recommends 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep for middle and high school students. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 10 to 11 hours of sleep for children ages 5 to 10.

Adams said USD 383 administrators discussed starting the elementary schools earlier for the 2012-13 school year, the board decided against it after conducting a survey.

“For us, I don’t think at this point we intend to open that discussion up again,” Adams said.

A lack of sleep for teenagers can cause physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance, according to the AAP.

Manhattan High School Principal Greg Hoyt said in USD 383’s situation, “you can’t just rely on that information to make a decision.”

Hoyt said one issue of concern for him about a later start time would be class time lost because of sub-varsity competitions, which have earlier start times than varsity sports.

He said when the school board discussed the issue two years ago, “two-thirds to three-fourths of parents did not want elementary kids to start early.”

Hoyt said teenagers’ need for sleep is important and that there are things that parents and teenagers could do to give the older students more sleep.

Those things might include a media curfew and caffeine limitations, according to an AAP article.

“I think it’s just important that we think about the health of our kids,’ Hoyt said.

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