The argument: Should the state require later start times for all middle and high schools?  - The Boston Globe

The argument: Should the state require later start times for all middle and high schools? – The Boston Globe

Dr. Judith Owens

The research, data and facts are irrefutable. There is a silent epidemic of sleep deprivation among adolescents in every state in the United States, including Massachusetts, which is negatively impacting mental and physical health, well-being, safety, and academic performance. and sports.

Imagine, if you will, living in a “toxic environment” that has the potential to increase the risk of car accidents, sports injuries, symptoms of depression and anxiety, alcohol and substance use, obesity and impaired immune function. The “environment” in this case is the colleges and high schools and the “toxin” to which the students are exposed daily: the early start times (often before 7:30 a.m.). Then imagine that there is a proven, well-established solution that could reduce those risks.

Policy notwithstanding, nothing should deter parents, teachers, school administrators, school boards and, yes, state legislators, from taking action to mitigate these risks. These unhealthy start times not only deprive teens of the sleep they need, but force them to wake up and function in school and driving at the brain equivalent of 3 a.m. – up to six. years in a row. Our job, then, as advocates for our children, our students and our communities, is to do the right thing.

While the “why” isn’t in question, the “how” of changing the school start time remains complicated and even controversial for many school districts struggling with similar issues, including work schedules. parents, child care and transportation costs. This common challenge is just one reason why statewide legislation — like that enacted in California and actively considered in New York and New Jersey — is the best path to success.

We need statewide legislation that includes funding for school districts and offers resources that can help them make the change and avoids a district-by-district approach. After all, isn’t the right thing to do for the health and well-being of our children the same in Brockton and Boston, Dover and Dedham, Framingham and Wayland?

Massachusetts is justifiably proud of its long history of innovation and leadership, and its willingness to invest in improving the lives of its citizens. Our wealth of educational facilities and superb healthcare are symbols of this dedication to excellence; let’s honor that legacy by supporting healthy back-to-school hours for the next generation and beyond.


Summer Schmaling

chairman of the Halifax Elementary School Committee; member of the Silver Lake Regional School Committee

Summer SchmalingWendy Lynn Photography

Requiring a later start time for middle and high school students would therefore result in an earlier start time for elementary school students.

It would have a direct impact on my whole family’s day. I have a senior, college and kindergarten. The start of the day for my two eldest begins when they leave for school at 6:30 a.m. When their lessons end for the day, they return home to get their little brother off the bus.

My husband and I work full time, so most days there’s no one else home to take care of my little guy. Having my older children available to help out after school is a huge plus for our family.

The ripple effects of changing the start time would not just be an inconvenience, it would add a financial burden with the cost of after-school childcare.

Once the boys are settled in after school, my eldest leaves to train for high school sports. Several days a week, she runs home from school sports to grab a quick lunch and go to work or sports.

When she comes home from her day, it is sometimes close to 10 p.m. before she starts her homework. I couldn’t imagine him having less time at the end of his school day, which would result from his school adopting a later start time.

And philosophically, I believe in small government and support local control. Each school district has elected school committees to represent the needs of residents in their community.

School committees are responsible for creating a budget, setting district policies, negotiating with employee unions, and setting the school calendar.

School start and end times, professional development days, and instructional time are all negotiated or voted on by the school committee. If the state required school districts to adhere to start times that may differ from what is already contractually agreed upon, this could impact the negotiation.

When state mandates are thrust upon them, districts often have to scramble to meet the new guidelines. This presents an unforeseen difficulty for these districts.

The state government should allow elected members of each school board to determine what is best for students and families in their district.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact

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