- Cincinnati Public Schools will push the start time for all of its public high schools from around 7:30 a.m. to a "healthier" start time of 8:30 a.m. or later in the next three years, following a school board vote last week, WKRC reports.
- The decision to support later bell schedules came about partially as a desire to increase the safety of students who walk to school in the dark most mornings, as 13 students were struck by vehicles last year and two of them died. However, studies have also shown that later start times can improve attendance and academic performance because teens need more sleep, and their sleep patterns begin to change in middle school.
- The decision to move to later start times would have been impossible in Cincinnati a year ago because Metro officials, who provide transportation to schools in the district, said it would cost up to $50 million in transportation costs, but a new transportation director has reportedly found a way to resolve that issue, according to WKRC.
The idea of pushing high school start times back has seen a significant amount of supporting research in recent years. Because teens need more sleep yet have developed sleep cycles that start later in the evening, early school start times often lead to sleep deprivation By starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later, students come to school more regularly and have more focus, which tends to improve academic performance and increase the chance for better grades. This, in turn, improves graduation rates, which leads to better futures for students and has a positive impact on the economic factors of a community.
Later start times also have mental health and safety benefits for students. Students who aren't sleep-deprived have improved moods, which can affect their attitudes toward school and the people around them. The safety of students walking to school is improved because they are walking more often in daylight. And the safety of students driving to high school is improved, as well, because of their increased cognitive functions and reaction times after a full night of sleep. Later start times also tend to benefit students by improving health behaviors. These benefits seem to be greater for less-affluent families.
It is possible for students to still be sleep deprived with later school start times. Knowing they have extra time in the morning can prompt some students to stay up later the night before. And keeping cell phones in the bedroom can be a further temptation to waste time texting or watching videos rather than sleeping. But studies on the issue have indicated that teens do tend to get more sleep overall when they have a later bell schedule.
However, there are both pros and cons to delaying start times for high school students. The cost and sheer logistics of transportation is one of the main concerns for school districts, especially those that provide transportation by bus rather than mass transit. This is one reason some school districts have postponed the decision to start later. Some have solved the problem by virtually eliminating busing for high school students and extending the distance many students have to walk to school.
Another big consideration concerning later start times is the effect on after-school activities. School leaders need to consider several questions: How will this affect athletics or other after school activities? What impact will this have on families who rely on teens to watch younger siblings after school? What about the impact on after-school jobs? Will the new schedule reduce the amount of time students have to do homework?
These impacts will vary in different communities. In rural communities where students must sometimes help with morning chores before school, the impact will be different than in metropolitan areas where the greater concern may be the impact on mass transit issues. School districts need to seek answers and community input before making the decision to change school schedules. If they do adopt later school schedules, school leaders must also then help parents adapt to those changes.