If it is not broken …

Several Maine schools have jumped aboard the bandwagon calling for a later start in the school day, based on the presumption that the adolescents involved thus will get more sleep each night. The proposal picked up steam nationally after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommendations to push back school start times two years ago. In the summary of its 2015 report, the CDC said that insufficient sleep – less than 8.5 to 9.5 hours per night – among high school students is associated with such health issues as being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco and using drugs, as well as poor academic performance.

Who knew? Are we really to assume that, for generations, obesity, alcoholism, smoking and drug abuse all could have been significantly diminished simply by starting school 30 minutes or so later in the morning? One wonders, then, how it is that, over the past half-century or so, so many millions and millions of students have started school each day at around 8 a.m. with high percentages of them growing up to be healthy, productive adults.

Along the way, families have developed schedules for conducting their daily affairs, including departing and returning home from work, to fit the school day as it has existed for decades. Are we now to ask employers, businesses and work sites throughout our state to adjust their hours to accommodate school boards and officials who have decided that our children ought to stay in bed later each morning? For younger children, that means a parent or adult must remain in the household or make other arrangements for supervision until such time as the child leaves for school under the new hours.

It is illuminating that the CDC, in its summary titled “Schools Start Too Early,” suggested the need to set a regular bedtime for students and encouraged parents to set a curfew for media-technology use, but did not expressly recommend that adolescents go to bed earlier each night than is now the case.

If, in fact, our children chronically are getting insufficient sleep each night, there is a simple solution – one that doesn’t require an adjustment of school hours or a complete revision of daily household schedules. Once parents establish what time the student must arise each morning in order to get to school on time, simply turn the hands of the clock backward by the necessary 8.5 to 9.5 hours to determine the time the child must hit the sack. And then enforce that bedtime.

Schools can help by ensuring that the daily class schedule is designed in a way that affords each student time to complete enough of his or her assignments that multiple hours of nightly homework usually will not be required.

One school board member in a Maine district that now is considering a later school start observed that such a change is bound to cause problems for working families. “What works for one area isn’t necessarily going to work for all areas,” she said, noting that most of today’s adults have grown up having started school earlier than 8:30 a.m.

“It’s not broken,” she said, “so why are we fixing it?”

She’s got it just right.


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