Group seeking to start school later clears the air: How did we get to this point?

by beth on March 31, 2015

Earlier this month, I posted a story about a proposed pilot at Algonquin. If approved, the high school would start the day with a transitional time. Since then, the organizers of a movement to start school later have been inundated with questions.

Algonquin School Start Time organizer Mary Hamaker tells me that many parents have misperceptions about what has been happening. She asked me to help clear those up.

At the March Regional School Committee meeting, Superintendent Christine Johnson floated a proposal to help students ease into the day. The schedule would begin with a Flexible Learning Block. The bus schedule would remain the same.

That proposal came out of the district’s study group. It was not proposed by the Algonquin School Start Time or Start School Later movements.

Below is ASST’s timeline for how their efforts to shift the schools schedule started and where it stands.

It includes information about the reasons for the movement and links to FAQs and supporting data. It also includes some of their concerns about the proposed pilot:

Later School Start Time for Algonquin: How Did We Get to this Point?

The issue whether to move school start times in the Northborough/Southborough Regional School District has touched off lots of discussion, particularly since the Superintendent proposed a pilot “Flexible Learning Block” at the March 18, 2015 Regional School Committee Meeting. There is misinformation about what has happened to date, however. This article provides a chronology of events regarding the efforts to move start time later in this school district.

  • December 2013 APTO Meeting: The APTO authorized research into the effects of start time on adolescent health with a request that a report be provided at the February 2014 meeting.
  • January 2014: A website was established to communicate information to the community:
  • February 2014 APTO Meeting: A presentation was made regarding the scientific understanding of adolescent sleep patterns and shift to later release of melatonin,the effects of sleep deprivation on teens, the role that early school start time plays in contributing to sleep deprivation, and the schools in MA that have already moved start time later to address this problem. Based on this evidence, the APTO authorized creation of the APTO Start Time Study Group. The presentation to the APTO was posted on the Algonquin Start Time website.
  • February – April 2014: APTO Start Time Study Group gathered information from stakeholders, including the Algonquin athletic director (and athletic directors at schools that already moved start time later), the bus company providing transportation services to the school district, and the Northborough/Southborough community (including parents, teachers, administrators and students) via an online survey. The link to the community survey was publicized via all of the school district PTO organizations in both towns. The results of the community survey were posted on the Algonquin Start Time website and shared with Principal Mead. There were 332 respondents to the survey with the response rate by town approximately equal. Eighty-two percent of respondents indicated that they want Algonquin start time pushed later. Meanwhile, HOSA conducted a sleep survey with the help of the Algonquin Statistics Department that included approximately 50% of the Algonquin student body. The results are posted on the Algonquin Start Time website. The study showed that only 16% of Algonquin students get 8 or more hours of sleep per night (recommended sleep for adolescents is 8 to 10 hours per night), that 53% use stimulant beverages to stay awake in class “often” or “very often”, and that 46% of students who drive are driving drowsy “often” or “very often”. Drowsy driving teens have a high accident rate.
  • April 2014: Principal Mead invited the APTO Start Time Study Group to present to the Algonquin Faculty Senate and to solicit teacher input. At that meeting, the Group reviewed its findings and the outcome sought (moving Algonquin start time later to give teens more sleep). The faculty generally expressed support for the idea but mentioned that some students take care of younger siblings after school and that this issue should be further reviewed. The Athletic Department representative stated that she previously worked at Sharon High School, where the start time was moved to 8:05 a.m. in 2010. She indicated that this move did not adversely affect the scheduling or performance of athletic events, and that parents officiating or attending athletic events appreciated the later game start times because they did not have to leave work as early to attend. Later start times have not adversely affected athletics in schools that have moved start time later. Teachers also suggested that the Group consider the effect of later start time on teenagers’ after-school jobs. Studies show that after school jobs are not adversely affected by later start time.
  • July 2014: The APTO Start Time Study Group met with Superintendent Johnson and Principal Mead to discuss the Group’s research results and to seek the administration’s support for moving the district schools’ start times later. Superintendent Johnson agreed to take the effort forward through the various school committees. There apparently was a misunderstanding about the Superintendent’s intended path forward, however. The APTO Start Time Study Group understood that the Superintendent would initiate K-12 discussions to move school start time because we cannot just move Algonquin without incurring substantial costs to buy more buses for a special Algonquin-only bus run. Superintendent Johnson has indicated that she intended to communicate a different path forward; that is, trying to do something to address the sleep deprivation issue just at Algonquin without disturbing the middle and elementary schools and that a broader effort may come later.
  • August 2014: The American Academy of Pediatrics issued its recommendation that middle and high schools not start before 8:30 a.m. based on a review of the scientific studies of adolescent sleep patterns, the necessary number of hours of sleep needed for this age group to remain healthy, and the effects of sleep deprivation on teens.
  • September 2014: The Regional School Committee authorized creation of the Superintendent’s K-12 Start Time Study Group.
  • September – December 2014: The APTO Start Time Study Group offered multiple times to engage with the Superintendent’s K-12 Start Time Study Group and continued to funnel information about the scientific basis for moving start time later to the Principal and Superintendent. Those offers were not accepted. The Group learned that Principal Mead was instead leading an Algonquin-only Start Time Study Group composed of students and teachers.
  • February 2015: The APTO publicized in the February newsletter that the school start time issue would be discussed at the March 18, 2015 meeting.
  • March 5, 2015: The Society of Pediatric Nurses and the National Association of School Nurses adopted a Consensus Statement endorsing the American Academy of Pediatrics’ school start time recommendation.
  • March 17, 2015: The APTO sent a reminder to Algonquin parents about the discussion of school start time at the March 18, 2015 meeting.
  • March 18, 2015: Superintendent Johnson presented the Algonquin Start Time Study Group’s findings to the Regional School Committee Meeting. During that presentation, the Superintendent acknowledged that the science behind the need for adequate teen sleep is clear and that there are no studies to the contrary. She identified some of the detrimental health effects of teen sleep deprivation, including mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, physical health problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and the increase of risky behavior, such as suicide ideation, suicide attempts, suicides substance abuse and sexual activity. She noted that sleep deprivation also reduces cognition and learning. According to the Superintendent, Algonquin’s start time is the earliest in our athletic competition district. Members of the APTO Start Time Study Group also pointed out during the discussion that sleep deprivation is correlated with higher rates of teen car accidents as well as higher rates of sports-related injuries. The Superintended also shared with the Committee the results of the 2014 HOSA sleep study showing sleep deprivation and use of stimulant beverages is prevalent at Algonquin and that teens are driving drowsy. A Committee member wondered whether students would just stay up later if school start time moved later. The evidence gathered to date for schools that have made the switch show that with later start time students in fact gain sleep because they go to bed at the same time as before but get up later. Later school start time has been shown to improve academic performance, reduce health problems associated with sleep deprivation, and reduce car accident and sports-related injury rates.
  • The Superintendent then described the proposed pilot for a “Flexible Learning Block” in which buses would run for a 7:20 a.m. start time, attendance would be taken at that time, and then attendance would again be taken at 7:45 a.m. for purposes of counting students absent or tardy. Parents and School Committee members expressed concern about this proposal because it was not clear what problem the administration sought to solve with this proposal. Parents and School Committee members also criticized the proposal because it would allow students with private transportation to sleep later but leave others without the opportunity for more sleep. School Committee members also were concerned that reducing the passing time between classes from 5 to 4 minutes would not leave students with sufficient time to get to class and thus the first few minutes of each class would be disrupted by students arriving late. In addition, School Committee members expressed concern that there had not been a K-8 community discussion so that the district could implement the no-cost solution of moving all of the schools in the district back by 30-40 minutes, thereby giving all of the high school students extra sleep and bringing the middle schools in compliance with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation. There was some discussion that students must exercise “personal responsibility” by forcing themselves to show up at 7:20 on a regular basis and reserve skipping the Flexible Learning Block to get more sleep for special circumstances. Characterizing students who choose adequate sleep, better academic performance and good health, instead of the sleep deprivation of the 7:20 a.m. start time as a character flaw or other moral defect is misplaced. No decision was adopted at this meeting.
1 Parent of a middle schooler March 31, 2015 at 1:51 PM

The district’s new flex schedule is very disappointing. It doesn’t even address the core issue here – lack of sleep! No idea what they are thinking.

2 SB Resident March 31, 2015 at 2:12 PM

I’ll start by saying that I don’t have any problem delaying the school start time if there is a reasonable solution to be found, but I do have a problem with the notion that this is the only solution being talked about. Getting kids to go to bed earlier is an equally reasonable solution. There is a larger issue here and I fear that this initiative is part of the problem because the focus is on reacting to the problem rather than solving it.

The real problem is a lack of respect for our bodies and not just by the students who are abusing them, it’s parents and administrators who also allow it and/or ignore it. Sleep is important, and it is up to parents and the schools to educate our children about this. A large part of this is nutrition, fitness, and social. If we were to attack the problem from all fronts I’d be more inclined to be supportive of this initiative as part of an overall solution.

While there is a clear sleep phase delay in adolescents, I’ve yet to see a study showing that natural causes lead to these extreme delays. Delays up to and beyond 11pm (or even 10) are generally the result of social norms. I was able to quickly find this short, well written paper that cites many studies related to this topic. A quick summary of the main point I took is that the evidence shows that circadian rhythms aren’t fixed and are being manipulated causing the lack of sleep and can also be manipulated back to a more reasonable schedule.

We need to teach (tell?) our kids when to go to bed and we need to promote/demonstrate all aspects of healthy living which will ultimately lead to our children having better sleep practices.

3 Parent of a middle schooler March 31, 2015 at 2:57 PM

You made some valid points. Here is a thought: There is a reason why most grown up jobs are 9am to 5pm. Why do our kids need to be at school at 7:20am? How many parents have to do homework past 11pm? True. Kids can go to bed earlier if they just want to be average and finish homework only, but many kids spend time studying extras (e.g. APs). I don’t automatically think kids who go to bed late because they play games or are not responsible for themselves.

4 SB Resident March 31, 2015 at 4:58 PM

As I said, I don’t disagree with making the school day start later. The reality is we are too cheap to pay for more buses so we can pick up all the kids at once and get them to their various schools at the same time. The elementary school kids get there at 9 to be in line with your 9-5 and we worked backwards from there. The point is, giving that reality, what else can we do. I think the answer is to help our children manage their time such that they accommodate the schedule that exists.

I simply have a hard time buying that in the 8-9 hours after school that there is just too little time for kids to be more than average. I also don’t automatically think that ALL the kids who go to bed later are not responsible, I just think that the majority are. ;-)

5 Al Hamilton April 1, 2015 at 7:47 AM

Calling Southborough taxpayers “cheap” when we fund schools at higher $/student than many comparable systems is not a good way to win friends and influence people. The roughly 2/3 of voters who do not have children in the system have regularly voted the tax dollars requested and should be insulted.

For the record, I think funding full day kindergarten is more important that funding for additional bus service.

6 SB Resident April 1, 2015 at 10:34 AM

I sincerely didn’t mean to offend. I generally consider being cheap to be a neutral term more like frugal than stingy. To me, cheap is often a good quality and in this case seems like a quick way to describe the reality of this situation rather than some long winded version like we’ve (or the school board) decided that the benefit gained for our tax dollars was more efficiently used in other manners.

That does bring up a good point that ultimately the solution here rests with the school board, they control the budget. If this is the communities priority, then the community should come up with some proposals on what they would like to prioritize this over.

7 beth April 1, 2015 at 11:09 AM

I would point out (before anyone else jumps all over you) that the committee’s control of the budget is limited to what voters approve at town meeting.

I don’t believe that voters get to decide exactly how the budget is used – but a hike in the budget is something they can certainly shoot down.

8 Al Hamilton April 1, 2015 at 12:13 PM

The School Committee has a lot more discretion over how it spends its budget than the BOS. If, for example, there was a motion on the floor to increase the regional budget by $100,000 (to pick a number out of thin air) for the purpose of providing additional busing support needed for a later time the School Committee would be under no obligation to spend the funds for that purpose. The choice of how the budget is used is completely under the control of the School Committees.

Making amendments that effect the regional budget has a second problem. Anything we approve has to be approved by Northborough as well. If you really want to find the money for this endeavor you had better get real support from both the School Committee and the voters in Northborough.

9 ARHS Mom April 1, 2015 at 12:23 PM

An important point that someone without a high schooler might not know, is that any student who plays sports competitively at ARHS also needs to play on ‘club’ or ‘select’ teams if they have any hope of playing for ARHS. Or they play on these teams because they didn’t make the ARHS team. The older teams very often get the later practice times. My son has practices that sometimes don’t end until 9:30 or 10:00 on a school night. That makes a 6:30AM bus pick up really rough.

You could call these activities ‘optional’, but if your child’s passion is sports – it’s a requirement. Do I tell him no, he can’t participate in what he loves because I need to teach him better sleep habits? I don’t think so.

I’m sure this doesn’t only apply to sports.

10 SB Resident April 2, 2015 at 5:09 PM

I’d just like to clarify that I wasn’t suggesting that we find money for this. I was suggesting that the school board is given a budget (that they control how it is spent), and within that budget they could choose to fund this as opposed to everything else that gets funded. If the community really wants this they could propose solutions to the school board such as we’d be willing to have less of something else in order to have this. The school board is supposed to represent the community, so if there is a clear demand, they should be willing to adjust the priorities.

11 JMO April 29, 2015 at 7:48 PM

Just curious, why do you think it is important to fund full day kindergarten? I am being sincere. I would like to hear you speak to the merits.

12 Algonquin parent April 2, 2015 at 10:06 AM

As the parent of two kids at Algonquin and a middle schooler, I think we seriously need to reconsider start times at both schools. It is a fact of life that our kids face a different world out there than we did. It’s much more competitive and tougher to get ahead. My kids study more in high school than I did in grad school. And of course grades are not enough! They need to show that they are well-rounded, so they need music, or sports, or volunteering. As a result, my kids basically have no free time. They don’t watch t.v. or hang out with friends or even read a book for fun during the week. They go to bed at 10 p.m. and are up by 5:30. That is well below the recommended 9 hours of sleep a teenager needs. The least we could do is come up with a schedule that matches their circadian rhythms. And if it costs more money, so be it. Their health is on the line here.

13 Parent of a middle schooler April 2, 2015 at 10:24 AM

Thank you ARHS Mom.High school is not just about study. The demands of top colleges ask to show talents, leadership, community services, and many other things other than class rank, GPAs, and SATs. One of my friend’s daughter got accepted by Harvard, Yale, and Princeton a couple days ago. She has over 350 hours community service, participates in team sports and band, won national awards in math and science, and had 12 APs. How can she achieve those with 8 hours sleep every night. Impossible! We are not going to ask kids to go to bed if they have homework due or tests on the next day no matter how late it gets. I think we parents would love for schools to be more considerate about our growing and ever stressed kids.

14 SB Resident April 2, 2015 at 4:59 PM

What I don’t understand with this argument is that there are still 24 hours in a day. While I do agree that the start time is early, I don’t see how making it later solves this problem, you are just shifting the schedule.

15 Parent of a Middle Schooler April 2, 2015 at 7:32 PM

Good question. Let me give it a try. Which job would you pick? A 9am-5pm one or a early morning Dunkin Donuts job that you need to get up 4am every day? Can you really go to bed at 7pm? Do you have kids to take care of? It is the same logic with our kids. I think most people might pick a 9-5pm. When high school kids need to get up at 5:30am it affects the whole family too.

I rarely post messages (maybe five in 3 years). This is my last post on this topic. My kids are still in middle school but I can clearly feel the frustration of many parents with high school kids. I have signed the petition and will support them down the road.

16 SB Resident April 3, 2015 at 10:31 AM

I don’t mean to poke at you but your math still doesn’t make sense to me, so I’ll spell mine out. First bus time is 630, so no one should have to get up before 6. If 8 hours of sleep is impossible that means bedtime is 11 or 12. But if we shift the 6 am wakeup to 7 am wakeup, then bedtime must move to 12 or 1 to allow the same amount of time to accomplish all those extra’s and studying. Which case you find more reasonable is a matter of opinion. I happen to think that the later bedtime is just as unreasonable as the early wakeup.

17 beth April 3, 2015 at 10:49 AM

To poke a little hole in your math – 8 hours is recommended for grown ups. That’s because we’re done growing. According to pediatricians, teens (who aren’t done growing and still have developing brains) require 9 hours of sleep to be healthy.

18 Southville April 3, 2015 at 7:32 AM

I think what that student did is commendable, but it shouldn’t be the example we look to for changing our schools. Getting into all three elite schools shows that she could have done quite well with a less hectic schedule.

Remember that filling a schedule to that extreme degree is a choice, it is not mandatory. You can still have a wonderful, happy, successful life without packing your days full and insisting on only going to the absolute top schools.

19 Kate April 2, 2015 at 2:37 PM

Interesting conversation here. I’m not sure if the parents above have seen “Race to Nowhere.” This is an award-winning documentary about the pressures placed upon our children and the stories of those who opt out of the “race.” Students and parents can choose or not choose to let themselves be hammered by these pressures, and the beauty of it is that recent studies have shown that it really doesn’t matter what institution of higher education one attends. What appears to matter more to employers is work ethic and strong critical thinking and communication skills.

@ Parent of a middle schooler: Algonquin’s had plenty of students who had all of the qualifications that your friend’s daughter had, and still didn’t get in to Harvard, Yale and Princeton. I bet they’ll do just fine at their second-choice schools. Our high school, in my opinion, does in fact show consideration, compassion and support to our students.

While supporting your child’s dreams is certainly laudable, I’d suggest that encouraging them to lead healthy lifestyles (including getting a good night’s sleep) and teaching them the value of perspective (for example, reminding them that they are capable of success in life whether or not they graduate from an Ivy League school) are equally admirable pursuits.

20 Another parent April 3, 2015 at 9:55 AM

I will chime in as a parent that doesn’t agree with this change. I have a junior at Algonquin and an 8th grader. I believe this problem is the result of buying into the theory that you have to to do everything. If your child is not able to keep up with their activities and school work and still get enough sleep, it is time to start cutting back on activities. It is also not a requirement to graduate with 12 APs. That was a choice that was made. Demanding that everyone change their schedule to accommodate kids who take on more than they can handle is not realistic. Asking that the town spend more money on buses to accommodate these kids is also not fair. Do we really want FInn to go from 10:00-4:00? I think that would be the fall out of this requested schedule change. These parents have to get their kids off the treadmill, not insist that others change to accommodate them.

21 Algonquin parent April 3, 2015 at 11:07 AM

Fair points. However, even if your child is not involved in a lot of activities, the medical community still feels that they shouldn’t start school before 8:30. From the American Academy of Pediatrics’ statement:

“…the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. Doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.”

22 Algonquin parent April 3, 2015 at 10:49 AM

I agree that kids always have a choice, and they can choose to pick a challenging schedule and lots of extracurriculars, or they can choose easier classes and more free time. But if your kid is smart and has lots of natural abilities, it seems wrong to tell her to take a lower level math class or not to study a musical instrument.

Also, there is a lot of peer pressure at Algonquin. No, not to take drugs, but to take AP classes, SAT prep, join the robotics club, etc. etc. I would guess that many of those who think kids should do less and it’s simply a matter of choice don’t have kids in high school right now. As I said in my previous comment, things are very different today than they were 25 years ago when I went to college. I doubt that I would get into Johns Hopkins today with the grades/activities/SAT scores I had then.

Bringing it back to earlier start times, it’s not the answer to all the problems our kids face, but at least we can help them by putting them in class when they are awake (at 9 a.m.) instead of at 7:20 a.m. (when they are asleep) so they get more out of class and need to study less later one because they retained more at school.

Very interesting discussion and great points from everyone. I am definitely going to watch the documentary recommended by Kate. Who knows, maybe I’ll change my views!

23 JMO April 29, 2015 at 7:56 PM

Don’t be too hard on yourself. The SAT has been revamped to yield higher scores, so you might have still done just fine! On another point, has it entered the discussion to have the elementary schools start first? Most little kids are in bed early and up early as a result.

24 beth April 29, 2015 at 9:33 PM

According to the superintendent, that option was looked at but still doesn’t work. You can read more about that at the bottom of the story linked here.

25 Kate April 3, 2015 at 2:56 PM

@Algonquin parent: I hope nobody is asking students to “choose easier classes and more free time.” My college freshman graduated Algonquin with all of his college math requirements for his biochemistry and molecular biology degree met, as he was able to get a great AP score in AP Calc. B/C. Kudos to Mr. McGrath, his excellent teacher, by the way. And of course, my son had to do the work too.

As to pressure, again, it’s a personal choice to be affected by peer pressure. Speaking for my own kids, they took the AP’s they had an interest and aptitude for, and took other classes (public speaking & sociology, for example) which will help them operate competently in the work world. SAT prep isn’t a big deal, and I know kids who did and didn’t take the class. As to joining clubs, I’ve heard of students who have joined just to say they joined. What’s the value of that?

What our children have going for them is that they are fortunate enough to have educated and interested parents.

26 JMO April 29, 2015 at 7:59 PM

From my experience with my children and from what I have read on the college admissions process, universities aren’t necessarily looking for lots of clubs, but rather they look for a passion. (depth rather than breadth) Anyway, that was the path my kids followed, and it seemed to work for them.

27 Beth D April 3, 2015 at 10:42 PM

I always did wonder why the younger kids who wake up early anyway weren’t the ones who started early. I remember my oldest (now 23) was raring to go by 7:30 when he was in kindergarten. But school didn’t start ’til about 9. And then, when he was in high school, I felt so bad for him, standing out in the dark on cold winter mornings, waiting for the bus.

28 Sue April 5, 2015 at 8:12 AM

Interesting discussion – is there actual evidence of unhealthy kids at ARHS such that we can conclude that it is because of the early school schedule?

29 Kate April 5, 2015 at 6:18 PM

In the Algonquinstarttime website referenced above, there is a Student Involvement section with data supplied by the students themselves that might be of interest to you.

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