Later School Hours? Sleepy Teens Seek Reprieve
Story and photo by Jenna Gardner
Mika Tuzon says, “I wake up so early that I feel sick.” The junior’s typical morning is being jarred awake from a dreamy residence by a harsh beeping. The abrupt noise disrupts her soothing slumber. The maddening beeps continue, getting faster and faster, as if becoming panicked. Tuzon peeks at the alarm clock — it is 5:30 and it’s time to get up and head to school.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools took a close look at their school hours on October 14 during a school board meeting. This issue has raised concern among parents whose high school children start school at 7:15 and parents with elementary students who don’t leave school until 4:15.
“My daughter is tired all the time,” says Angelique Vestal, mother of junior Emily Vestal. “Emily has to get up so early to go to school and is completely exhausted when she gets back home.”
The debate about school hours began in 2011 to save money. Since then, the busing is staggered. One bus in CMS will usually serve 2-4 schools daily, forcing some students to wake up early and some students to finish school late. Some students at certain late releasing elementary schools do not have time for all their homework, family time and extracurricular activities. A recent addition of 45 minutes to some elementary school schedules to help budget cuts has been criticized by many who say it puts buses into severe rush hour traffic, and causes drained staff and students. “Staff has been working since last year with a group of parents who are concerned about the 4:15 p.m. dismissal time for elementary school students,” said Earnest J. Winston, the Chief of Staff for CMS.
“When my daughter was in elementary school, she wouldn’t get home until 4 o’clock. She barely had any time to finish all of her homework plus her sports,” says Sandy Thompson, mother of junior Emily Thompson.
Early starting times at high schools can cause students to lose sleep. The National Sleep Foundation proved that teens need more sleep than any other age group. Research shows that early high school start times hinder their ability to get proper rest. One NSF study found that only 15% of teens are getting enough sleep. A students’ ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems is diminished by lack of sleep.
Late last month, we surveyed 70 students at Providence High School. Two thirds of them said their preference would be later starting times for school, allowing more sleep. “Waking up this early is not natural,” says Tuzon.
A growing number of school districts across the country have changed their high school schedules to allow students more sleep and the best opportunity to be alert. A large school district in Fairfax County Virginia with 40,000 students more than CMS, developed a new schedule for high school students with the help of the Children’s National Medical Center’s Division of Sleep Medicine.
A new division — “School Time Task Force” will be holding public meetings about these issues. “The CMS task force is being formed to review the Council’s report, study the effects of the late bell and make recommendations on issues related to school time,” said Winston.
Superintendent Heath Morrison told the Charlotte Observer, “I don’t want to rush into recommendations that are going to solve one set of problems and create others.”