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Improve student performance with later school start times

Maryland might consider moving school start times until later in the morning following a national trend. Last month, California became the first state in the nation to mandate later openings for middle and high schools.
Maryland might consider moving school start times until later in the morning following a national trend. Last month, California became the first state in the nation to mandate later openings for middle and high schools.(Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

Our state of Maryland must follow California’s passing of SB 328, a landmark piece of child protection and public health legislation that ensures that middle and high schools start at a healthy time (“California becomes first state in the country to push back school start times,” Oct. 13). California’s legislation sets a floor on how early secondary schools start, leaving them scheduling flexibility yet empowering them to protect adolescents’ health, safety and school performance. I urge Maryland’s school districts and the entire state to act now.

As a longstanding child and adolescent sleep researcher, psychology faculty member at Loyola University Maryland, local resident and author of the American Academy of Pediatrics 2014 Policy Statement on School Start Times for Adolescents, it is clear to me that the volume, breadth, consistency and strength of the peer-reviewed scientific research necessitates that states and school districts reschedule the school day so adolescents can obtain sufficient sleep. Getting enough sleep is crucial for their health and emotional well-being, safe behavior and optimal academic performance.

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Currently, the vast majority of Maryland middle and high schools start before 8:30 a.m. (the mean for high school is 7:54 a.m. while the mean for middle is 8:11 a.m.) with bus pick-ups beginning as early as 5:15 a.m. In Baltimore County, 100% of high schools start before 8 a.m. and nearly 60% of Baltimore City high schools start before 8:30 a.m. This means we are asking our teens to wake up at hours long before their biological clocks are prepared to do so, and then asking them to learn, behave and perform at their best in the classroom, on playing fields and in their lives!

Findings from over 1,000 districts across the United States confirm that starting secondary school at times that allow for healthy sleep is an effective and equitable countermeasure to the adolescent sleep deficiency epidemic — the only intervention proven to work on a population level. However, for over a generation, we have not acted on this knowledge. As opposed to treating insufficient and misaligned sleep as an individual/family problem, systematically delaying school start times would address the root origins of poor sleep health for current and future Maryland adolescents.

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Maryland school districts and state legislators can no longer afford to wait. I encourage you to protect the majority of Baltimore and Maryland’s adolescents’ sleep by delaying middle and high school start times, helping to guarantee optimal health, safety and school performance.

Amy R. Wolfson, Baltimore

The writer is a professor of psychology at Loyola University Maryland and author of “The Oxford Handbook of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Sleep and Behavior.”

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