A: To determine how much changing school times would cost, the first step is to have our Board of Education hire a third-party bus consultant. This consultant would analyze our district’s bus routes and come up with different start time and bus route options along with the costs of implementing each option. Even if Westport did not end up changing its school start times, this analysis could pay for itself by identifying ways to make our current bus routes more efficient.
Greenwich commissioned two bus studies, additional analyses, and staffing for ten to twelve on-site meetings, which cost around $80,000 total. Our study would probably cost less given all of the extra work that the consultants did for Greenwich and because Greenwich is a much larger school district, with over twice as many elementary schools and approximately 8,827 students compared to the 5,750 students in Westport.
Click here to see the bus study commissioned by the Greenwich Board of Education.Back To The Top
A: The bus study is not too expensive. Please remember that our current school start times harm our students' health immensely. This issue is not equivalent to determining whether to add STEM classes or improve our schools in other ways as part of the town's strategic long term planning. Like mold or lead in our classrooms - which our town has historically remediated immediately - our school schedule is a serious public health issue. This is why our country's leading medical organizations have issued policy statements that middle and high school should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. These organizations do not opine on the content of curricula or how to make our infrastructure more efficient. They warn us about serious risks to our health like smoking, ebola, and lead poisoning. We should take their policy statements seriously and act on them.
Commissioning the study also makes sense in the context of Westport’s prior expenditures to improve the safety of our students. For the 2017-2018 school year, Westport spent $65,000 to install seat belts on 13 school busses.57 It will then cost $500,000 to install seat belts on the rest of our school bus fleet.57 We have spent these funds even though, for the time period between 2003 and 2012, only 55 school bus passengers died in crashes.58 As you can see in the table on the right, for the year 2012 alone, over 3,000 adolescents died in motor vehicle accidents and over 2,000 adolescents committed suicide. The $65,000 we have already allocated to reduce a risk responsible for taking 55 lives over an entire decade is probably more expensive than the cost of our bus study.
In 2013, in the wake of Sandy Hook, our town paid $98,000 for a security audit of our schools.2 Yet out of all adolescent deaths, only 0.34% consist of homicides on school grounds.3, 4 By comparison, car accidents are the number one killer of our teens, making up 35.0% of teen deaths, while suicide causes 11% of teen deaths.3 Moving school times later has been shown to dramatically decrease motor vehicle accidents and improve mental health. Why would Westport spend $98,000 to identify ways to reduce only 0.34% of teenage deaths and possibly $565,000 to reduce less than .01% of adolescent deaths from school bus accidents, but not spend around $40,000 to figure out the best way for our town to reduce 46% of teenage deaths?
Moreover, the bus study should be conducted by an independent third party with expertise in this exact area of school start time changes rather than Westport's transportation coordinator. This is a different kind of analysis than those involved with the more minor schedule changes that we have implemented in past years. Creating an accurate and comprehensive bus study for our purposes here is, in and of itself, a full time job for professionals that have dedicated themselves to this type of analysis and possess specific tools and years of expertise in this area. Put differently, as opposed to handing day-to-day operations with occasional alterations in scheduling, as our transportation administrator does every day, the bus study would be a complex, mulitvariate analysis where the output would be a detailed report that, depending on what constraints we give to the bus consultants, could have 20 or more start time options - with all the related costs accurately accounted for and other non-monetary pros and cons described in detail. To perform this unique logistics task the third party bus consultants have proprietary algorithms, systems, processes, software and techniques that local transportation administrators don't have access to. Moreover, in other school systems that have first tried to have their transportation administrator do this type of analysis, their administrators have been accused of bias when sophisticated parent advocates found inaccurate figures, assumptions, and gaps in the analyses. An independent, third-party consultant eliminates any patina of bias from the process.For all of these reasons, Greenwich hired a third-party bus consultant to do multiple analyses, even though its transportation administrator and CFO are sophisticated professionals as well. Ridgefield has also hired a third-party bus consultant as the first step in figuring out how to implement later start times for the 2018-2019 school year. Hiring a third-party bus consultant should be Westport's first step as well.Back To The Top
A: Before anyone starts arguing about this point, we need to commission a bus study to find out what all the different options would be for implementing later high school and middle school start times and what each option would cost. Perhaps there is a way to make this change that would not affect our school budget.
Also, as mentioned in response to the prior question, please remember that our current school start times harm our students' health immensely. This issue is not equivalent to determining whether to add STEM classes or improve our schools in other ways as part of the town's strategic long term planning. Like mold or lead in our classrooms - which our town has historically remediated immediately - our school schedule is a serious public health issue. This is why our town's pediatricians and the country's leading medical organizations have issued policy statements that middle and high school should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. These organizations do not opine on the content of curricula or how to make our infrastructure more efficient. They warn us about serious risks to our health like smoking, ebola, and lead poisoning. We should take their policy statements seriously and act on them. Despite any budget difficulties, this is a problem we need to fix now for the sake of our children.
Even if starting school later would involve additional cost, this would be money well spent by our town. Economists investigating this issue have concluded that even using the most conservative numbers, delaying school start times has a substantial benefit-to-cost ratio of 9:1:5
A: If you understand the science behind the adolescent sleep cycle and have read the policy statements of the AMA, AAP, and CDC on school start times, it is crazier that we haven't fixed this problem in our schools already. Students learn the information they were exposed to during the day when they are sleeping. For every day that we keep our current high school start times spending, all the money that we spend on our schools is not as effective as it otherwise could be.
Moreover, and as explained in more detail above, our current middle and high school start times are a serious public health threat. When our town recently found out that there was mold at Coleytown Middle School, our public officials had the mold remediated as soon as possible. This issue is no different.
The Westport Board of Finance has encouraged strategic investments in our education system that will yield long-term benefits and productivity. As noted in detail above and on the Benefits page of this website changing middle and high school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later is one of the best investments that our town can make in the productivity of our school system and the health of our adolescents.
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A: No, this is biologically unfeasible for most adolescents, as explained in detail on the Science page of this website. As scientists have explained, “students cannot force themselves to fall asleep at a time early enough to get an adequate night’s rest… sleep researchers have found that adolescents stay awake later largely for biological reasons.”8 And because an adolescent’s body continues to secrete melatonin until at least 8:00 a.m., “simply going to bed earlier does not necessarily make someone less tired in the early morning hours.”16
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The findings are unequivocal, and as a sleep scientist, I rarely get to speak with that kind of certainty. Teens from districts with later start times get more sleep. To the naysayers who may think that if schools start later, teens will just stay up later, the truth is, their bedtimes stay the same, but their wake-up times get extended, resulting in more sleep.92Thousands of adolescents have shifted to later school start times and the research all shows that bedtimes either stay about the same or in some cases actually shift slightly earlier.5, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 25a Out of the 11 studies published on this issue as of May 2016, weekday bedtimes stayed the same in 11 studies and in 2 studies students reported slightly earlier bedtimes.17 At the same time, students are using the extra time in the morning to sleep, which means that delayed school start times do accomplish the goal of increasing sleep duration for adolescents.17, 22, 23, 24, 25 In fact, researchers have determined that, as opposed to parenting methods, academic workload, and extracurricular activities, school start time has the single largest effect on how long adolescents sleep each night.18
A: It might seem like high school has started at 7:30 a.m. or earlier forever, but that isn’t the case. A hundred years ago, most schools started around 9:00 a.m.27 During the recession in the 1970s, many schools shifted high school and middle school start times earlier so they could have tiered bus schedules.27, 28 Back then, the importance of sleep and the adolescent sleep cycle shift weren’t understood. Because there seemed to be no downside to earlier start times, saving money by using the fewest possible busses in three cycles was appealing.27
Now that we know better and leading health organizations have recommended that school start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., it makes no sense to leave start times as they are. When the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that we have babies sleep on their backs without crib bumpers, should we ignore them because our parents did otherwise and we turned out fine? When the American Medical Association recommends that we not expose our children to cigarette smoke, should we ignore them because we were exposed as kids and we turned out fine? When the CDC tells us we shouldn't have more than a specific amount of lead in our schools, should we leave a school covered in chipping lead paint the way it is because some of our schools were the same way when we were students? As one school superintendent explained, "the science and the evidence is so clear, that if I did nothing at all and just continued on with the same start times, I was hurting kids."66 Now that we know better, we need to do better in Westport too.
Put differently, imagine that you spent a long time in Iceland during your youth, but since then researchers have discovered that there is something in the environment that, for teens, causes lower academic and sports performance, reduced creativity, poor mental health, an increased likelihood of car accidents, and a greater likelihood of sports injuries. So the CDC recommends that teens not travel there. Would you send your adolescent children there anyways because you grew up in that environment and turned out fine?
And not changing school start times because teens will have to wake up early in the “real world” is equally ridiculous. Biology causes adolescents’ sleep cycle to shift later, just like biology causes toddlers to need 1 or 2 naps each day. Making teenagers attend school so early to "prepare" for the real world is like asking toddlers to skip their naps to prepare for second grade. By the time teens are in their early twenties and in the “real world,” their sleep cycle will have shifted back.6 The "real world" is also a diverse place, with schedules varying greatly from person to person. We shouldn’t compromise adolescents’ health and potential by making them wake up so early now just because they might have to, or choose to, wake up early years later.
Moreover, the "real world" that our students will join prioritizes sleep and corporations even see it now as a "status symbol" and "human potential enhancer."72 Accenture, JP Morgan Chase, and Uber, among other companies, provide "antiburnout programing" which "educates their employees on the importance of sleep."72 Aetna, the health care company, is paying its workers up to $500 a year if they can prove they have slept for seven hours or more for 20 days in a row.72 And even the Army "has proclaimed sleep a pillar of peak soldier performance."72
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A: Yes. In 2003, the Westport Board of Education formed a special school start time committee that included principals of 4 schools, 3 teachers, the athletic director, a nursing supervisor, and a PPS coordinator. The committee commissioned Clive R. Belfield of Columbia University to examine the research on school start times and write a report.
In his report, professor Belfield wrote that “the link between lack of sleep and impaired general cognitive capacities is strong and compelling” and that “it is possible to infer” that Westport's current school start times impair educational performance. He ultimately concluded, however, that there needed to be more research on the effect of start times on academic performance. He also noted that scientists hadn’t yet determined what school start time would be most beneficial for adolescents.
After meeting 13 times and reviewing Professor Belfield’s report, the special committee wrote a final report in March 2004. In the report, the committee concluded that “the scientific literature does not provide enough evidence to support altering school start time for high school students at the present time” because: (1) the committee wanted more evidence that students would get more sleep with later start times, (2) the committee was waiting for more guidance from experts on what start time would be best.
The medical community has answered both of these questions in the intervening years. First, students have gotten more sleep with later school start times in every one of the many studies that have been done on this issue.29 Second, as of 2016 the evidence regarding the public harm caused by current school start times was so compelling that the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and the Center for Disease Control, and many other organizations have all recommended that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Any starting time before this hour, such as Staples High School's start time of 7:30 a.m., is NOT optimal. Rather, it is a serious public health hazard for our teens. 5, 16, 30, 31
In fact, some scientists suggest that, while changing start times to 8:30 a.m. is a move in the right direction, start times of 10:00 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. would be ideal for high school students and freshmen in college. 13, 14, 17 Changing our middle and high school start times to 8:30 a.m. is the very least that we should do for Westport's adolescents.
Since 2004, scientists have also learned more about the importance of sleep and how later school start times improve academic performance, sports performance, mental health, and numerous other important facets of teenage life.
School start times have been brought up on other occasions during the past 13 years, but the Board of Education has not looked at the issue in depth again.
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A: Changing school start times might involve altering extracurricular activity schedules as well, but this inconvenience is nothing in comparison with what we have to gain. As explained in further detail on the benefits page, our teens will be much better athletes and get significantly fewer sports injuries with later school start times.32 Our artists will be more creative.32 And our musicians will have more effective practice sessions as their bodies are better able to learn the fine muscle movements needed to play their instruments.32, 33
What’s more, student participation in all of these activities either stayed the same or increased in ALL follow up studies of middle and high schools that moved their start times later.21, 24, 34, 35 As one group of researchers that reviewed all of these studies reported, “we identified no districts in which athletic programs were canceled or significantly adversely affected by school start time change.35 To the contrary, a number of districts found that more students participated in athletics and that sports programs grew after high school bell times were delayed, and reported that their teams performed better following the change.”35
Nor should we worry that moving start times later would make it difficult to schedule games with other schools. Students at Wilton High School have benefited from later start times for over a decade, and according to Wilton’s athletic director there have been “no problems with the athletic schedule because neighboring schools simply pushed back the starting times for some of our away games at their sites by 15-30 minutes.” The Wilton superintendent also reported that they had one of their best athletic years ever after moving start times and that participation in all sports increased.21
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (“CIAC”) has even issued a position statement in support of later start times: “research shows that switching to later school start times does create a more optimal learning environment and improves student achievement for high school athletes… [with later start times] ”interscholastic athletic activities can continue to be offered, with appropriate accommodations, within any reasonable school day structure…To do less would be to elevate high school athletics to an importance greater than that which is its true purpose.”36
Other schools in the CIAC are also working towards implementing later start times. Ridgefield has committed to institute later start times for the 2018 - 2019 school year, and Greenwich High School will start classes at 8:30 a.m. starting in September 2017. Reportedly, Greenwich athletic director Gus Lindine was originally apprehensive about the change, but he is now excited that the district’s new sports schedule will take advantage of the many scientifically demonstrated benefits of more sleep for student-athletes, including enhanced performance and significantly reduced injuries. If Westport does not follow suit and move school start times later as well, our adolescents will be at a significant disadvantage to their better-rested peers in Wilton, Greenwich, and Ridgefield, not only in the classroom but also on the playing field, in the orchestra, and in the artists’ studio.
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A: There will be many different scheduling options for implementing healthier school start times, and the first step to figuring out what these options are is to commission a third-party bus study. This study will come up with a long list of all the different start time options, the estimated costs of implementing each new schedule, if any, and any other pros and cons of each option.
Ideally, none of our children should be waiting for a bus in the dark, regardless of their age. Age does not make pedestrians more visible to drivers. Nor does age make adolescents invisible to predators lurking in shadows of the dawn. Our school start times should keep ALL children safe, not just the youngest ones.
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A: Our current school start times are a serious public health hazard for our adolescents, as the AAP, AMA, and CDC have explained in their position statements. After school employment should not take priority over fixing something that is so detrimental to our teens' health and futures. We also need to remember that changing school start times has such a large impact on academics alone that our students can expect their future earnings to increase by 8%6 And most high school students work lower wage jobs. If students did have to work less hours now due to later start times, the end result would be a cost-effective investment in their future.
Ultimately, however, we don't need to worry that teens won't be able to work as much if their school start times move later. In all of the school districts that have moved school start times later, no follow up study has found that altering the hours of after school jobs caused any sort of problem for the communities at issue. For example, in one study of seven high schools that shifted their start times from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m., researchers found that there was no negative impact on after-school employment of high school students because employers had no trouble adjusting hours and many employers didn’t need additional staff until at least 4:00 p.m. anyways.22
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A: While most of the articles and news sources referenced on this website are publicly available through other websites, if we link to those websites directly and the website at issue has posted that particular article in violation of copyright law, we could be sued.
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A: As explained in the sports section of the Benefits page * and by sports medicine expert Dr. Karen Sutton in the video below, this information has been compelling to world-class student athletes at Stamford, professional athletes, and Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history. In addition, student athletes that don’t get enough sleep are 68% more likely to sustain an injury that requires medical treatment than their well-rested peers, who also derive more enjoyment out of participating in sports. 77 Whether you are just learning a sport or breaking world records, obtaining enough sleep significantly improves our athletic success and overall experience playing. And as a matter of biology, our middle and high school athletes can’t obtain enough sleep to meet this baseline without changing school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later. 78
A: There is no scientific consensus regarding what happens to the adolescent sleep cycle when clocks “fall back” to standard time. In fact, the premise of the question – that in general teens quickly fill the “extra” hour with wakeful pursuits rather than getting more sleep – might not be true.
To our knowledge there have been no peer-reviewed studies with objective measures on this issue. Researchers are still studying how daylight savings time (“DST”) affects the population at large, and these studies tend to exclude or control for adolescents because their sleep cycles are so different from those of adults.1
The only study on DST and high school students concerned the effects of the “spring forward” to DST rather than the switch back to standard time. These students went to White Plains High School and started class at 7:40 a.m. The researchers found that after the clock moved forward to DST, the students never fully adjusted to the time change and lost a mean of 32 minutes of sleep each weeknight.2 This caused “highly significant” declines in the students’ cognitive function, psychomotor vigilance, and reaction times.3
Regardless of what the scientific community eventually concludes regarding the effects of DST on teens, however, there is no reason to think that adolescents will stay up for an extra hour if we moved our school start times one hour later. In contrast to the paucity of research regarding teens and DST, so many studies in different settings by different experts have found that adolescents get more sleep with later school start times that there is “virtually unanimous agreement” among researchers on this point.4 In fact, as detailed throughout this website, “the findings are unequivocal”5 and “few, if any educational interventions are so strongly supported by research evidence from so many different disciplines and experts in the field.”6 That’s why the position statements of our nation’s leading medical and educational organizations and all of our local pediatricians don’t just note that adolescents need more sleep; they state that middle and high schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
So, how might moving start times later by an hour result in better-rested teens even if, hypothetically, the same doesn’t occur when the clock “falls back” to standard time? The information below is reasonable conjecture rather than scientific fact, but there are at least three reasons why the two scenarios might yield different results.
First, during the “fall back” from DST, every scheduled aspect of a teen’s life automatically shifts one hour later. These externally dictated schedules concretely affect the timing for bedtime, while no such constraints exist in the morning to wake up with the exception of school start time. And while some extracurricular activities might meet later in the day if school start times were later, post-school activities and responsibilities of teens might be accomplished in a more efficient manner, leaving more time for sleep.
For example, students with later school start times complete homework more efficiently7 because they are more alert, manage their time more effectively, and have improved attention, memory, abstract thinking, and verbal creativity.8 Sports coaches could get better results from their athletes with shorter practices because their athletes build and repair muscle more quickly, improve skills and learn team plays more easily, have faster reaction times, and are significantly less likely to get injured 9, 10, 11 – collegiate and professional athletes have found this to be the case and as a result many teams now hire sleep consultants and track athletes’ sleep. 12, 13, 14, 15 Likewise, our musicians could learn the fine muscle movements needed to play their sonatas more quickly and our theatre stars could master their lines and blocking in less time.16 Adolescents with later school start times even spend less time watching television.17,18 In sum, and as opposed to adjusting a clock while keeping the exact same daily schedule, moving school start times an hour forward is just that – a change to middle and high school hours. The other things that students seek to accomplish after school – including homework – might not take as long.
Second, residents of districts that have moved school start times later learned about the importance of sleep during that process and have a much better understanding of sleep science than the general population. Many people still view adequate sleep as something for the boring, weak, or the lazy. When there’s only 24 hours in the day and you have ambitions – academic, athletic, career, musical, social, or all of the above – sleep is usually the first thing to go. But when parents and students understand that sleep deprivation literally and figuratively prevents adolescents from fully achieving any dreams they might have, sleep becomes more of a priority.
In fact, to help ensure that sleep is prioritized, some districts also add sleep health education programs to their curriculum when they change to the recommended start times of 8:30 a.m. or later. For example, around the time when Menlo-Atherton High School changed its first bell from 7:45 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., with classes starting twice a week at 9:30 a.m., it also implemented an award-winning sleep education program in partnership with Stanford University.19 The average teen adjusting back to standard time in the fall does not have the same knowledge base.
Third, as mentioned previously, the only study using objective measures regarding adolescents and DST concluded that teens did not fully adjust to the “spring forward” to DST.20 And research on adults shows that, based on sunrise and sunset times the “fall back” to standard time may take place a month too late.21 In other words, it is possible that teens’ never fully adjust their bedtimes to DST and their circadian systems are primed to adjust back to standard-time bedtimes in November. This is a completely different scenario than moving school start times later. As any parent of an adolescent has observed, once their teen is asleep, if given the option he or she will usually occupy free time in the morning with more sleep.
In sum, what teens do or don’t do when clocks are adjusted as part of DST shouldn’t dissuade us from changing our middle and high school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later. The scenarios are different in many important ways, and there is a wealth of evidence – evidence that has been vetted and endorsed by our country’s leading medical organizations – proving that adolescents get more sleep with later school start times. Back To The Top
A: Westport should add a mandatory sleep health education to its curriculum, but this change would not be enough to ameliorate the health hazards caused by our current school schedules. As detailed throughout this website, the adolescent sleep cycle shift is a universal, neuro-biological stage of human development.1 Even if all our students somehow obtained PhDs in sleep science prior to graduating high school, they still generally would not be able to fall asleep until 11:00 p.m. at the earliest.2 And there’s simply not enough time between then and our current school start times for adolescents to get the sleep they need to be safe, healthy, and excel to their full potential. 3, 4
If you think about it, adding sleep education alone under our current circumstances would be cruel. Our schools would be teaching students about the serious harm caused by sleep deprivation, while keeping a schedule where it isn’t possible for them to get enough sleep. The scenario would be analogous to teaching students about the dangers of mold exposure in a school where there’s mold.
Research on the efficacy of sleep health education programs demonstrates that schools must also have later start times for the programs to meaningfully improve student health: “the overall trend across studies was for an improvement in sleep knowledge but a null effect on sleep behaviors.” 5,6 The exceptions – sleep education programs that helped increase students’ nightly sleep – took place in schools with later start times or with greater student flexibility in scheduling morning classes, including:
A: There was a good op-ed published in the Greenwich times regarding this issue, which you can see here. We’ve made some additional points and provided details below.
First - and in spite of the initial logistical difficulties which are addressed in more detail below – there’s no real evidence that the new schedule in Greenwich is unsuccessful. As the author of the op-ed explained, “[a]ll leading medical authorities and experts in the United States have spoken in one voice recommending an 8:30 start a.m. time or later” based on extensive evidence from multiple fields. Some parents have claimed that the 8:30 a.m. start time is worse than the old 7:30 a.m. start time, but this is anecdotal evidence. And there is just as much, if not more, anecdotal evidence from other parents indicating the opposite. For example, one mom of two high-achieving GHS students recently reported that (a) her kids get their homework done earlier because they are more alert and efficient (b) they go to bed at the same time or earlier, and (c) they have not had a single sick day. Another parent was thrilled that her son, an all-state musician, is sleeping more, learning new pieces faster, and performing better than ever.
What’s more, Greenwich High School’s sports teams and clubs have been unusually successful since the 8:30 a.m. start time was implemented. For example: