As the parent of two former and one current student, I've been living with the issue of early high school start times for years.
Although the consensus of scientific opinion is that teenagers (and young adults) would be better off if school hours were better aligned with their biological clocks, the possibility of changing school hours inevitably sparks raging controversy, both here and across the country.
Changing school hours costs money, and we all know school systems don't have a lot of that on hand. It also means changing the way we do things, and most of us don't like doing that much either.
On the other hand, Moses didn't come down from Mount Sinai with commandments that schools must start at 7:17 a.m. and end at 2:05 p.m.
Surely if we know students learn better, and are healthier and safer, with different hours, we should make that our No. 1 priority. Shouldn't we?
Many of us have become convinced that the only solution to the problem is a national mandate. That's why I created a petition on We the People on WhiteHouse.gov, a new platform that allows anyone to create and sign petitions asking the Obama Administration to take action on a range of issues.
As much as I prefer local control on these issues, sometimes you have to step in from on high (school desegregation would be another case in point). If you agree, please voice your opinion on the website.
If this petition gets 5,000 online signatures by Nov. 02, 2011 the White House will review it and issue an official response.
For specific studies on sleep patterns in adolescents, the effects of early start times on learning and health, and evidence that later school hours are both possible and helpful, visit the National Sleep Foundation.
Time is of the essence: Merely to be searchable within the website, the petition needs 150 signatures. And if there aren't 5,000 signatures by Nov. 3, the petition will be removed.
You can view and sign the petition here: http://wh.gov/2qJ.
The petition specifically asks the Obama Administration to:
Promote legislation to prevent public schools from starting earlier than 8
a.m. Considerable research confirms the relationship between school start times, sleep deprivation, and student performance, truancy, and absenteeism, as well as depression, mood swings, impulse control, tobacco and alcohol use, impaired cognitive function and decision-making, obesity, stimulant abuse, automobile accidents, and suicide.
Mounting evidence about the biology of adolescent sleep, and about the impact of later start times, shows that starting school before 8 a.m. not only undermines academic achievement, but endangers health and safety. Because logistical and financial issues prevent local school systems from establishing safe and educationally defensible hours, however, federal legislation mandating start times consistent with student health and educational well-being is essential.
Anyone interested in this issue on a more local level can also join a Facebook group promoting later start times in Anne Arundel County, https://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=103019689744482.
This page contains links to recent studies showing the impact of early start times and associated sleep deprivation on adolescents.