Bellevue School District exploring later start time for high schoolers

Studies of teenagers sleep patterns have shown they perform better in school when they don't have to wake up before 7 a.m., and board members are starting the process to determine what it would take to delay class start times for them in Bellevue.

Countless commercials trying to sell mattresses have stressed how important sleep is, stating people need eight hours a night.

Recently sleep experts and scientist have released study after study proving the same point, something even more true for children and teenagers, which is why school districts across the country have researched the possibility of delaying the start time for schools to better match sleep patterns of students.

Andrew Smith, a concerned parent in the Bellevue School District, has seen the toll of waking up before 7, or in many cases, 6 a.m., takes on students. He went before the school board last December to ask the members to consider the possibility of moving the start time, and after several correspondences with board members, returned before them on Sept. 16, to ask if there was any update.

To Smith’s surprise, he learned the board already was considering later start times for its high schools and announced at the meeting a steering committee was being put together in October to begin exploring what it would take to accomplish it and what potential hurdles the board may meet.

Superintendent Tim Mills, who previously worked for a school district in Oregon that had a later start time, said he saw the benefits of a later class schedule, including higher grade-point averages and more alert students.

According to Mills, the North Clackamas School District had instituted a staggered delayed start time for all its K-12 schools, with elementary classes starting at 8 a.m., middle school at 9:15 a.m., and high school classes starting at 8:30 a.m.

“We’re at the formation of a study of how that would look like for our district,” Mills said. “We have to be very thoughtful looking at all sides of this to determine if it’ll work in Bellevue.”

He said what made the changes work for the Clackamas District was the community’s belief that it was best for their students, only time will tell if the parents of the Bellevue School District will agree.

A recent poll from the National Sleep Foundation found 59 percent of students in grades sixth through eighth and 87 percent of high school students in the US were getting less than the 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep recommended on school nights.

After learning of the board’s plans, Smith immediately volunteered for one of the positions, along with another parent in the audience.

“Every morning on my way to work I see the high school kids waiting for their buses at 6:45, and they’re all so groggy,” Smith told the Reporter. “The science has shown how much extra sleep helps students.”

While it may take two to three years, or even longer to move the districts start time back, Smith, a local anesthesiologist who studies natural sleep and chemical unconsciousness, said he’ll do whatever he can to help. With two children currently in the third and fifth grades, he said ideally the start time would be pushed back at least an hour from current time of 7:30 a.m.

“I’m hoping by the time my kids are in middle and high school that the time change will be in place,” Smith said. “I see how much they need their sleep and the science is showing the benefits.”

During the meeting several board members brought up several potential roadblocks for the district to move back its start time including after school extra curricular activities and sports played against other schools.

Smith said while those concerns are valid, the student’s education should come first.Last month Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published its study supporting the delaying of start times for middle and high schools to help combat teen sleep deprivation.

According to the report, adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems, increased risk of automobile accidents, and declining academic performance.

It also stated most teenager’s natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.

In the Aug. 25, report, doctors recommended a start time of at least 8:30 a.m.

“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,” according to pediatrician Judith Owens, the lead author of the policy statement. “Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common and easily fixable public health issues in the US today. The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life.”

Bellevue School Board members are scheduled to discuss the potential further and work to setup a steering committee next month to being identifying transportation plans with a later start time. Smith said the sooner the better.

“If the science shows later starts improve test scores, information retention, then let’s do that and worry about the other things later,” he said.

Josh Stilts: 425-391-0363 ext. 5052; jstilts@bellevuereporter.com; On Twitter: @JoshStilts

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