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High school bell rings too early

Your report "How teens can get the sleep they need in spite of school schedules" (Aug. 25) begins promisingly with a profile of an Anne Arundel County high school student who wakes up two hours before sunrise to catch a bus to school, and it nicely covers the science of teen sleep.

But it quickly derails when it turns to a discussion of personal sleep habits. What you call the biggest "simple behavior change" that would help teen sleep is actually a change among school administrators, who maintain the status quo of early high school start times even though they know it is unhealthy and unsafe for students.

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As the Anne Arundel County chapter leader of the national non-profit Start School Later, I am encouraged that the county Board of Education has voted to start high school later in August 2016. However, I am simultaneously discouraged that school superintendent George Arlotto advised Start School Later that budgetary constraints allow only one solution — a 30-minute shift in start times for all grade levels.

To conclude that this is the only possible solution within a $1.1 billion budget and before the school system's newly purchased transportation software is even unwrapped shows a lack of vision and an insincere effort to solve the problem.

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Start School Later supports school start times that are healthy and safe for all children. While starting school 30 minutes later would be an improvement for teens, it fails to meet the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. And it comes at the expense of elementary school children, whose day would not start until almost 10 a.m. We can do better.

The biggest lesson learned from districts that have implemented bell time reform is the importance of vision, leadership and commitment of district superintendents and boards of education to effectively implement smart change.

I urge members of the Anne Arundel County public schools community to direct the Board of Education and Mr. Arlotto and his staff to act with a sense of urgency to establish healthy, safe start times for all children that can be fully implemented during the 2016-2017 school year.

Lisa VanBuskirk, Edgewater

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