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House Committee Approves Resolution Supporting Later School Start Times

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After a major snowstorm delayed morning commutes and travel along the Wasatch Front, Utah lawmakers debated legislation that supports school districts to start high school classes a bit later. 

The House Health and Human Services Committee approved House Concurrent Resolution 3 Monday, which encourages school districts and charter schools to consider the benefits and consequences of implementing a later start time for high school students. Resolutions express positions of the Legislature; they do not create laws.

District 32 Rep. Suzanne Harrison sponsored the resolution. The Sandy Democrat cited research that shows sleep deprivation in young people can lead to increased substance abuse issues and incidents of car accidents. Currently, Park City High School’s first bell rings at 7:30 a.m., while Wasatch High School starts at 8 a.m. Harrison says many health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend starting high school no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

“Our kids are exhausted, impacting their mental and physical health, as well as their academic performance,” Harrison said.

Harrison says the resolution encourages solutions at the local level, to tailor start times to students’ needs. Anthony Godfrey, the superintendent for Jordan School District, supports the resolution. He says his district has already addressed the issue by using blended learning, where students can take a class online to start school later.

“That gives the flexibility for students to choose a late start, if they would look to do that, using two of those classes in our high schools," Godfrey said. "We feel this is an important issue as well and appreciate the efforts to bring focus on that.”

Todd Hougaard from the Utah Parent Teachers Association spoke to the resolution. He says the Utah PTA surveyed students, and sleep deprivation and start times were among their top concerns, along with depression and suicide. Hougaard says the argument that school has always been early, so there’s no sense in changing it, reminds him of something else people used to say.

“I always heard that we used to walk uphill in the snow, five miles both ways," Hougaard said. "Somewhere along the lines we figured out that wasn’t the best thing to do, so now we have snow days or we work out some alternative, out-of-the-box thinking to avoid that problem. I think this might be something similar here.”

HCR3 passed out of committee unanimously. Now, the resolution will go to the full House for consideration.

Emily Means hadn’t intended to be a journalist, but after two years of studying chemistry at the University of Utah, she found her fit in the school’s communication program. Diving headfirst into student media opportunities, Means worked as a host, producer and programming director for K-UTE Radio as well as a news writer and copy editor at The Daily Utah Chronicle.