Later secondary school start times explored in Greenfield; national group recommends 8:30 a.m. or la

Aug. 26, 2014

Greenfield — The issue of later secondary school start times may soon recur in Greenfield after the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement Monday urging high and middle schools to start at 8:30 a.m. or later.

Both the Greenfield middle and high schools start at 7:30 a.m.

Greenfield School Board officials said they would further examine the issue of starting times, possibly in October.

The academy's statement based on the latest research was presented to the Greenfield School Board on Monday by Dolores Skowronek, who spearheaded the Greenfield schools examination of all start times and who was chairwoman of the former Greenfield Ad Hoc School Start Time Advisory Committee.

The academy's policy statement says that evidence strongly suggests that start times earlier than 8:30 a.m. lead to insufficient sleep for students and disrupts their sleep rhythms. The academy strongly urges high schools and middle schools to aim for start times that allow students the opportunity to have optimal levels of sleep of 8.5 to 9.5 hours per night.

It warns that adolescent sleep deprivation can lead to greater risk of obesity, of type 2 diabetes because of metabolic dysfunctions, increased risk of car crashes, less physical activity, increased risk of anxiety, depression and suicide, poor impulse control and self-regulation, decreased motivation, lower ability to pay attention, cognitive deficits affecting memory and abstract thinking resulting in lower academic achievement and higher dropout rates and mood disorders.

The American Academy of Pediatrics consists of more than 60,000 pediatricians, Skowronek said.

"When the medical community tells us there's something wrong in our district, you should pay attention," she told the School Board. "You have a responsibility to take this very seriously."

Last year, the School Board moved the high school start time back from 7:10 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.

"That was a move in the right direction," Skowronek said. "But the start times at the middle school and high school fall way short" of the recommended 8:30 a.m., she said.

School Board President Cathy Walsh agreed that the issue needs to be revisited, saying she hopes it will be taken up at a committee of the whole meeting. The next one will be in October.

Walsh said she also wants to know more about the impact of moving the start times.

Appearing somewhat sympathetic to the call for later start times, school board member Pam Sierzchulski said she read a recent story in the media about how students will go back to school and suffer sleep deprivation.

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