Dear Dr. Debbie,
A two-hour-delay for school brings our family much joy. The best scenario is to know about it the night before, however, I am most willing to turn off my kids’ alarms for them if I get the news in the early morning hours.
My high school years in an Anne Arundel County public school are a blur. Not so much because I graduated 30 years ago, but because I was sleepy for much of it. I’m not sure if my parents spoke up on my behalf about the brutally early start times, but ever since I became a parent I was sure that high school start times would be corrected by the time my children got there. But no. We got a nice break from grumbly adolescents during winter break, which is when they were last able to get adequate sleep.
Should I run the risk of embarrassing my kids by getting involved? I know they can be grumbly for lots of reasons, but waking up too early seems like an easy problem to fix.
Let Them Sleep
Yes, you should. Mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 22 at 7 pm. You can testify to the Board of Education about your tired children, or just stand with others who support this issue. Parental pressure is very influential when it comes to school board decisions. If enough parents speak up, the board has to listen. Unfortunately the board has to listen to many complaints and appeals from parents, community members, and school personnel, so for an issue to take precedence, the case has to be solid. The more successful petitioners are well-researched, well-spoken, and tenacious. And numerous.
Allies for this cause can be found through the local chapter of Start School Later (SSL). The group values and promotes the wisdom of such creditable experts as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Sleep Foundation, the National Institute for Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and others. SSL Anne Arundel County is supported by individual experts on adolescent sleep including Dr. Amy Wolfson, one of the authors of a policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics on delaying school start times. Noting the fact that adolescents get drowsy later in the evening than they did when they were younger, which conflicts with these too early high school start times, Dr. Wolfson identified “very serious consequences” of the resultant inadequate sleep. Mental health issues affected by too little sleep include mood instability, behavioral instability, substance use and abuse, suicidality and suicide, as well as difficulty concentrating and learning. Effects of sleep insufficiency on physical health, such as weight gain and getting sick more often, only make matters worse.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools has been reluctant to adequately resolve this issue, citing cost and inconvenience, however an evaluation of its transportation system was recently completed. The evaluation included surveys of 6,268 parents and 95 school administrators as well as other indicators of efficiency.
Short of laying out a clear answer as to how to carry out a good solution for exhausted students, the report implied that additional staff and modern routing technology could improve the buses’ efficiency. If current inefficiencies were corrected, the report said, two start time options are feasible without additional costs:
1) Elementary School at 8 am, Middle School and High School both at 9 am.
2) Elementary School at 7:30 am, High School at 8:15 am, Middle School at 9 am.
The evaluators acknowledged that recommending changes to support age-appropriate start times had not been their assignment. Clearly, the leadership of the school system – the superintendent and school board – must make age-appropriate, safe, and healthy start times a priority in order for this change to happen.
Tired students need parents and other advocates to continue to speak out on this issue until the problem is fixed. Budget decisions for next school year are happening now. Decisions must be made more than a year in advance so that contracts can be made for the number of drivers and buses and the number of hours needed to carry out the schedule. Since high school is “only” four years long, too many parents figure that any efforts they might make wouldn’t make a difference for their family’s current sleep challenges.
Be the parent who takes action:
Stand with SSL AACo. at the Board of Education Meeting on January 22 to request sufficient staffing and technology to accomplish the long-needed change in school start times.
Plan to attend a Board of Education budget hearing at Old Mill High School on Monday, January 27 at 6:30 pm to insist on adequate transportation funding for the change.
Stress the importance of this issue by emailing the members of the Board of Education:
The school board’s budget request then goes for approval to the County Council. You have opportunities to attend a county Town Hall to approach council members about this:
January 16, 6:30 pm Old Mill High School Media Center
January 22, 6:30 pm Northeast High School Auditorium (yes, same time as BOE meeting)
January 23, 6:30 pm Arundel High School Cafeteria
January 28, 6:30 pm Southern High School Auditorium
January 29, 6:30 pm Severna Park Middle School Cafeteria
Similarly, personal communications to County Council members adds weight to the urgency of approving the school board’s budget request. You can also email council members:
As Lisa VanBuskirk of SSL AACo says, “While the news that zero cost options with reasonable hours are possible, it will still take your support to implement.” Lisa welcomes your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.