School Start Time
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do we think changing start times will help? What problem are we trying to solve?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that high schools and middle schools start no earlier than 8:30am. They are addressing a nationwide epidemic of sleep deprivation that has serious physical and mental health impacts that fall particularly hard on our teenagers.
How many high school and middle school students aren’t getting enough sleep?
Survey results in Wayland show we have slightly more sleep deprivation than the nationwide average (73% getting less than 8 hours per night v. 70% nationwide). We don’t have additional information locally, but nationally, 40% of teenagers get less than 6 hours of sleep per night. 8.5-9.5 is recommended.
If we start high school and middle school later, won’t kids just stay up later?
Most people expect this, and even the researchers who did the original studies on this topic were surprised by the results. Most kids do not stay up later, they just get more sleep. Studies have shown that kids get 30-60 minutes more sleep per night when start time is delayed by 60 minutes. (Some articles on this topic are linked online here.) Their ability to get to sleep is often limited by when their bodies are biologically ready to shut down, and that doesn’t change when start times change. So they will generally go to sleep at about the same time. They will, however, be able to sleep longer in the morning. They are even able to make up some of that extra 30-60 minutes that they sleep by being more productive when they are awake. Studies show that they get their homework done faster when they are less sleep deprived and more alert.
Why can’t parents just get their kids to sleep earlier?
Most teens are limited in this regard by their biology. Their circadian rhythms change around the time of puberty shifting the time during which their body wants to sleep. Good sleep hygiene is certainly helpful (turn off those cell phones, get them out of the bedroom, eliminate afternoon and evening caffeine, etc.), but it will only take you so far. If a teen can’t get to sleep before 10:30 or 11:00pm, then they should not be waking up before 6:30 or 7am. Since the first buses pick up in Wayland at 6:50am, it is impossible for most of our students to get adequate sleep.
Why can’t we just set the times independently for the various schools (i.e., do we need to change elementary times if we change high school and middle school)?
We currently run two tiers of buses - we pick up high school and middle school students with one set of buses and then use those same buses to turn around and get the elementary school students. To run all those buses independently (that is, to set times that wouldn’t require reusing the buses) would be extremely expensive (a rough estimate would be around $800,000 per year). It’s a decision we could choose to make, but first we would need to be convinced that was the best use of that money and that the taxpayers would support it.
What about athletics? Will this affect participation?
Many other towns have changed their start and end times without impacts on their sports program. That said, there will be challenges involved in managing fields and scheduling games, especially with teams that are more distant. We fully expect to be able to manage these challenges, as the only thing that ties us to the current schedule is that it is the one we first had to make work. There is no reason to think that we can’t adjust to make another schedule work.
What about clubs and other extracurriculars?
Like with sports other towns have found no change in participation in clubs and other extracurriculars. These are, fortunately, generally easier to manage as they tend to have fewer issues with conflicts, such as coordinating schedules and competing for fixed resources.
How do elementary students do if the times are flipped?
There is less data on elementary students than there is on the older students. That said, there have been several recent studies done (see resources here), and so far the results have all come back showing that an earlier start has little or no impact on elementary school students, and is the better choice district-wide, considering outcomes for all students.
What effect would this have on child-care arrangements for elementary students?
Impact on child-care arrangements is going to vary for individual families. With young children going to school in the morning, there would be less need for before school care, and there probably will be no Before School program. This will save some families money. On the other hand, with elementary school getting out earlier in the afternoon (and without older siblings home ahead of younger students), there may be more need for after-school care. It is possible for creative solutions to be devised to help families with this.
What about teachers? What do they think about this?
Like the rest of us, there will be an adjustment for all of our teachers and staff. For some, the new schedules will be preferable, for others they will be less preferred.
What about METCO and transportation to and from Boston?
METCO transportation always has been and will continue to be a challenge. Boston resident students have a long commute in in the morning, and a long commute home in the evening, and their day is considerably longer than their Wayland counterparts. That will continue to be the case. However, the Boston-based high school and middle school students are currently the most at-risk for sleep-deprivation among our students as they are the earliest risers in the system, and stand the most to gain from a delay in start times. On the flip-side, that burden will shift to younger students if we move elementary start times earlier.
How will this affect traffic flow in town?
The Schools have not yet studied the impact to traffic flows in town. We should expect to see more traffic on Old Connecticut Path and Route 27 later in the morning but less earlier. Similarly, there will be a shift in the timing of the local street traffic heading to elementary schools from later to earlier.
Where can I get more information?
There are a number of places to go for more information. We have provided a few links to key information sources below:
Dr. Judith Owens on Sleep and implementation of start time changes:
[Note: this was videotaped at a school in Pennsylvania, but the sleep research is still germaine, and the discussion is all relevant]
Start School Later National Site
Dr. Wendy Troxel on sleepy teens: a public health epidemic [TEDx 10 min sleep presentation from a RAND Corporation sleep researcher]
Wayland School Committee discussions on school start time:
Video from November 9
Video from November 29, 9am
November 29, 7pm (not on WayCAM; there were technical difficulties with this session and no audio was captured)
Overview articles and some common issues
Start School Later resources by topic
Research addressing individual impacts on health, safety and academics