The Pennsylvania General Assembly released a report this month titled “Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents: The Case for Delaying Secondary School Start Times.” The report, by a committee of educators, health professionals, transportation administrators, parents and students, calls sleep deprivation among teenagers a “public health crisis of epidemic proportions,” LNP’s Alex Geli reported Friday, Oct. 25. And it concludes that schools could help address the crisis by moving secondary school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later.
We agree. Sleep deprivation is a serious issue for our teenagers.
And it makes sense that an answer might involve starting the school day later.
But this is a complex issue.
There are myriad interlocking pieces for families, businesses and communities related to the schedule of a school day. And so we believe careful examination of this issue is needed in Lancaster County. And that it might be best if some of our school districts join forces on that research.
One thing we find unfortunate in this discussion, however, is that some people believe sleep deficiency is a self-created problem that exists because of undisciplined teenagers and/or parents. Some say teens aren’t as hardy as the “old days.” Or that parents let electronic devices rule their kids’ lives. “Our society is raising wimps,” stated one commenter on LNP | LancasterOnline’s Facebook page.
We couldn’t disagree more strongly. We wrote this in August, and we meant it: “Many young people are doing great or compassionate or smart or creative things — and at an age that just blows us away. ... They’re your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors’ children, the youngsters who attend your house of worship. The youth of today are as aware of the world around them as any previous generation, and they want to make it a better place.”
But they need sleep, too, especially at their age.
Adults may forget that the stress and anxiety of living in 2019 is felt by our teenagers, too. Perhaps even more acutely.
They are juggling homework, chores, extracurricular activities, college decisions and family life. They are as affected as we are by local, national and international news.
And it’s not as simple as having to start school at an early hour. It’s how early they must rise before they even get there. To dress and groom. To eat. In some cases to rush to a bus stop before the sun is over the horizon.
There are, at least, some commenters on the LNP | LancasterOnline Facebook page who understand what teenagers face:
— “Puberty, among other changes, ushers in years in which the person needs more sleep than they needed just before puberty, and what they will need as adults.”
— “This has been an issue way before phones and tablets.”
— “Science, not opinions ... support the FACT that due to the circadian rhythms of adolescents, their sleep needs are not well served by the schedules most institutionalized schools keep. Sure, people can function under many different forms of duress. Doesn’t mean the long-term health effects don’t exist. Mentally and physically.”
Another commenter discussed her daughter seeming like a zombie in the morning — and not because of a Halloween event. Sleep deprivation for teenagers is real, and we must find ways within public education to address it.
But, as we said, it’s complicated.
Districtwide bus schedules.
Rush-hour traffic flow.
Sports practices and games.
These are just some of the crucial tangential issues that must be studied before finalizing any decision to start secondary school later in the morning. School schedules do not exist in a vacuum; they are part of an intricate community ecosystem. Changes have ripple effects.
“After school extracurriculars and athletics would need to be moved later into the afternoon/evening, which could also have an affect on families,” Manheim Township Superintendent Robin Felty stated in an email to LNP’s Geli. “Alignment of families’ drop-off and pick-up times, after-school care with elementary siblings, etc., would be impacted. Some of our families may find it difficult to delay the start of their workday to accompany their students’ delayed start time. (And) the delayed time may also adversely affect transportation programming, and possibly increase the district’s transportation costs.”
Indeed, many factors would have to be assessed. And forums would be needed for all stakeholders to weigh in.
Additionally, Penn Manor Superintendent Mike Leichliter points out the logistics surrounding the Lancaster County Career & Technology Center, which serves students from 16 high schools.
“(It) makes it necessary to have common start times in the county,” Leichliter wrote to Geli in an email. “In order for me to recommend to the Penn Manor School Board later start times, it would be important to see that a large majority of school districts in Lancaster County were also moving in that direction.”
That’s why we believe a joint approach among Lancaster County school districts might be the best initial way to approach this issue. Working together to examine the logistical issues and economic ramifications of a later starting time would be efficient and allow administrators to spread the workload around. School boards could simultaneously gather input from the residents of their individual districts and feed that information back to administrators and committees.
It will take some time. But if the end result is a later starting time that improves health and achievement outcomes for our teenagers, it will be worth it.