District explores later school start times

Staff will make a recommendation to the board early next year


Weight gain, alcohol and tobacco use, depression, poor academic performance. These are some of the possible consequences of lack of sleep in young people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. One of the reasons adolescents do not get enough sleep is early school start times, the CDC says.

A Douglas County parent emphasized that finding at a Sept. 4 Douglas County School Board meeting, when district staff and board members discussed the topic of changing middle and high school start times, a move already made by some area districts.

During public comment, Darien Wilson brought to the board's attention various studies conducted by the CDC and published in scientific journals.

“I am here, as the parent of two teenagers, to beg you to institute later start times for middle and high school students as soon as possible,” Wilson said. “If there was an educational intervention we could offer that would increase attendance rates, increase students' GPAs, increase state assessment scores, increase college admissions test scores, increase student attention, increase quality of student-family interaction… Wouldn't we make that intervention immediately?”

Currently, elementary schools in Douglas County School District go from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Middle schools start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m. And high schools go from 7:40 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. The times are stacked to accommodate bus routes, district staff said in a presentation at the Sept. 4 meeting.

“It allows us to reduce driver counts and bus counts,” said Gautam Sethi, chief technology officer at the district.

DCSD is exploring the possibility of switching elementary and high school start times. For the remainder of the year, a project team — comprising a core team that meets regularly, a membership team of district staff and an advisory council of staff, parents and board committees — will compile research from mental health professionals and feedback from other school districts that have enacted later start times.

The team will also survey district staff, students and families and study the impact on school programs.

In January 2019, district staff will present a recommendation to the school board. If approved, later start times would take effect in the 2020-21 school year. The timeline is lengthy because of a traffic impact study that would involve Douglas County, Sethi said.

Some board members requested that the process be expedited. But board member Wendy Vogel voiced her appreciation for the timeline.

"Even though we know something is going to be good for kids, this is going to be a massive impact to our system,” Vogel said. “I think, in my opinion, we shouldn't rush something just because we know it's good for kids. We have to be very thoughtful about that.”

Historically, schools across the U.S. have had early start times. A 2014 study conducted by the CDC showed that 93 percent of high schools and 83 percent of middle schools in the country started before 8:30 a.m.

Public health departments and organizations are now recommending later start times due to the detrimental effects of too little sleep in adolescents.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that teens get eight to 10 hours of sleep per day for “optimal health.”

Lack of sleep in young people can result in attention, behavior and learning problems, as well as an increased risk of accidents or injuries, diabetes and depression, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says. Insufficient sleep in teens is also associated with increased risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts, according to the academy.

Adequate sleep results in improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life and mental and physical health, the academy reports.

Several school districts across Colorado have made the transition to later start times, including Littleton Public Schools and the Cherry Creek School District. Jefferson County Public Schools is currently weighing the decision.

Members of the Douglas County School Board say they will base their decision on conclusive research.

“We want to be driven not by what our neighboring districts are doing but by what is best for kids,” school board President David Ray said. “The more research that is done, the more comfortable the board will be.”


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