CDA Schools could consider later start times for high schoolers

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - Getting high schoolers out of bed in the morning can seem like mission impossible. Various medical experts agree teenagers are actually sleep deprived because their school starts too early. Could one local school district be on the way to changing this?

In the Coeur d'Alene School District, the first class for most high schoolers starts around 8:30 a.m. on Mondays, but for the rest of the week the first bell rings around 7:30 a.m.

Now, at least one district leader wants to explore making high school start later. The district tweeted Sunday, saying there is "much to consider and discuss in examining a later start to school for teens."

The tweet links to an article by the Coeur d'Alene Press, which discusses the issue of high schoolers being in class before 8:00 in the morning. 

Bruce Twitchell, the President of Coeur d'Alene's Education Association has brought up the issue at several recent school board meetings. 

Twitchell, who is also a teacher at Coeur d'Alene High School, said starting high school at 7:30 is not in the best interest of the students. A local child psychologist agrees, saying adolescent sleep patterns keep the brain in what she calls 'sleep mode' until 8:00 a.m.

Doctor Sara Morrow, quoted by The CDA Press, said "This means that teens are on the roads in the morning, and sitting in the classroom, without a fully functioning brain. When teens get a bit more sleep, we see significant improvements in mental health, physical health, academic success, and overall well-being.” 

She also sites 16 medical groups, including the Centers for Disease Control, which recommend districts start high school no earlier than 8:30 in the morning.

According to the CDC, 93% of high schools and 83% of middle schools in the U.S. start before 8:30 a.m., leading to many teens being deprived of an ample amount of sleep. 

A CDC article entitled Schools Start Too Early says, "Not getting enough sleep is common among high school students and is associated with several health risks including being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and using drugs, as well as poor academic performance. One of the reasons adolescents do not get enough sleep is early school start times."

Further, the American Academy of Pediatrics says, "Although a number of factors ... negatively affect middle and high school students’ ability to obtain sufficient sleep, the evidence strongly implicates earlier school start times (ie, before 8:30 am) as a key modifiable contributor to insufficient sleep, as well as circadian rhythm disruption, in this population."

However, there are certainly no immediate policy or schedule changes coming to CDA Schools.

Scott Maben, a spokesman for the district, said Tuesday "We haven't even decided if we're going to have the discussion yet." Maben says board members have heard the concerns of both Twitchell and Dr. Morrow, but the board has not made any official action on the issue. Several members have indicated support for putting it on a future board meeting agenda in order to start the conversation.

"It's obviously an issue that some people feel strongly about, and I know there's a lot of research out there examining it," said Maben. "If we do go forward with it, we'll be taking a look at everything." Superintendant Dr. Steven Cook says if the board does move to consider later start times, the process to gather community input and discuss implementation would take at least nine months.

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