Legislature Urges School Districts To Make School Start Times Later

Mar 5, 2020

Credit Park City School District

The Utah Legislature passed a resolution encouraging public and charter schools consider later school start times for adolescent students.  The bill states scientific evidence from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and over a dozen major medical organizations, including the American Psychological Association all recommend that high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Salt Lake City Representative Dr. Suzanne Harrison sponsored House Resolution 3 which is asking local school boards to consider finding solutions to the problem. She says in the past four years, there has been a lot of research that provides better understanding of the unique timing of adolescent brain development and the need children have for more sleep.

“Just like no one would blink an eye at saying your 2-year- old needs to take a nap during the day, the same principles apply that our teenagers are in a unique stage of brain development and for every one hour that they're not getting of sleep, their risk of mental illness, their risk of physical illness and even their risk of suicide goes up. I'm asking for local conversations and local solutions.”

She says the Jordan and Salt Lake City School Districts are exploring ways to address the problems adolescents face when they don’t get the nine-and-a-half hours needed to be properly rested. She says it takes parents and educators to find solutions.

“Teenager’s melatonin release does not increase until about 11:00 PM so even with parental haranguing and parental rules, a teenager may be unable to fall asleep even if forced to go lie down in their room at 9:00 PM.”

Park City School District formed a task force in January of 2016 and recommendations were made to the school board in August that year. The school board voted in favor of the later start times with plans to implement in the 2017/2018 school year. With changes in direction and leadership, the plan was pulled back and since then was rolled into the master planning process which has been underway since the fall of 2018.

Dr. Wendy Troxel is a certified Behavioral Sleep Medicine Specialist and was a part of the 2016 effort to change high school start times. She is concerned that the late start option is not available to every family and that the trade-offs of skipping the first period have consequences. Students usually make up the credits in summer school which costs money and presents additional access problems for some families.

“My children, because I feel so passionate about this issue, opt for late start because I can't, in good faith knowing what I know, allow my children to go to school every day at a time that's inconsistent with their biology and could really set them up for significant health risks. So, I opt for late release because I can.”

Troxel says the late start parent release is available to students in grades 8 through 12 but she says the school discourages it and parents don’t necessarily know it is an option. She says in order for the change to happen, it would need more direction and focus than rolling it into a broader master planning effort.

“The issue of the parent release as an option, that must be addressed as an issue of equity."

Troxel says she has followed many communities which made the change and they work with stake holders to overcome traffic, bussing, child-care and after school activities’ challenges.

“There are really good models and resources to learn from about how to engage in the implementation but it's simply not just saying we're going to think about it or saying it could happen in some foreseeable future without any actual action plan.”

Park City School District Superintendent Jill Gildea declined to be interviewed on this topic and provided a text response as follows:

“Park City School District is currently reviewing all aspects of the future of education in its comprehensive master planning process including the learning environment, student schedules, and transportation flow. We are pleased to continue our ongoing partnership with our community on all of these important topics.”

Click on the link to HCR 3 to read the resolution.