Our school schedule is endangering adolescents' health and safety, and preventing students from reaching their full potential

Our school schedule is endangering adolescents' health and safety, and preventing students from reaching their full potential

Over the past few decades, scientists have begun to discover the importance of sleep. For adolescents, the benefits of obtaining the proper amount of sleep include improved academic performance, cognitive function, creativity, athletic performance and mental health. Properly rested teens are also less likely to crash cars, get injured, abuse substances, commit suicide or engage in other risky behaviors.

Scientists also learned that around puberty, adolescents’ biological clocks shift later so that it is difficult for them to fall asleep before 11:00 p.m. or wake up until 8:00 a.m., even with the best sleep hygiene. To make sure adolescents get the 8 to 10 hours of sleep that they need given this shift, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have all stated that middle and high schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. In Westport, Staples High School starts at 7:30 a.m.

Westport's pediatricians have signed a letter endorsing the AAP, AMA, and CDC’s policy statements as “grounded in broad medical and scientific consensus” and stating that changing middle and high school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later is a “necessary public health measure.”

Wilton changed to later school start times over a decade ago and, starting in 2017, Greenwich High School will start at 8:30 a.m.
Ridgefield Public Schools are implementing healthier school start times for the 2018-2019 school year.

Although sleep has historically been viewed as a luxury that ambitious people cannot afford, we now know better. And it is past time for us to fix our school schedule for the sake of our kids’ health and future success. The first step is to sign a petition urging the Westport Board of education to commission a third party bus study to determine what our options are for later school start times and what costs would be associated with each option, if any.