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Hampton, neighboring districts consider delaying start of school day

| Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

Some local school districts, including Hampton Township, are investigating the benefits of delaying the start of the day for high school students, while others have already implemented the action.

Starting school later, namely for teenagers, is meant to accommodate their natural sleep habits, which alters at this age. Dr. Michael Loughead, superintendent to HTSD, provided a presentation at the school board's Oct. 2 meeting on ongoing studies done on the subject.

Loughead stressed that they are solely researching benefits of delaying start times for high school students, and are not ready to suggest or implement any action. He said they would also be looking to the community for feedback if they consider pursuing the idea. This is simply to start dialogue.

Hampton begins its day for high schoolers at 7:30 a.m.

The idea has been studied and recommended for years now, including the American Academy of Pediatrics which suggests delaying start times for that age group until 8:30 a.m., according to research presented by Loughead.

Dr. Peter Franzen, assistant professor of psychology at the Center for Sleep and Circadian Science of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said that “normal biological changes during adolescent development results in sleep getting lighter and the biological clock delaying, making it more difficult for youth to fall asleep at night, leading to a school–sleep squeeze when combined with early school start times.”

Franzen said studies around the country reveal students are not getting enough sleep. The effects can lead to negative consequences, such as obesity, lower grades, depression, suicide, substance abuse, sports injuries, and car crashes.

“Starting schools later is one way to promote health and well-being in adolescents,” said Franzen.

Franzen added that benefits include higher grades and achievement test scores, less tardiness, and fewer car crashes.

Loughead acknowledged several issues would need to be addressed, such as how bus runs or after school athletic events would be affected.

Loughead has been speaking with local school districts, and said Fox Chapel and North Allegheny are looking into it.

NASD now begins at 7:25 a.m., middle school at 8:10 a.m. and elementary at 9 a.m., according to Emily Schaffer, the public relations and communications specialist there.

She said the district is planning public meetings for feedback before making decisions, if any. Some possible options include delaying start times for all schools, flipping start times for high school and elementary students, or pushing start times back and condensing bus runs.

Avonworth School District already has moved from 7:15 to 8 a.m. this year, said Dr. Kenneth Lockette, assistant superintendent for the district.

“I think overall it's been very positive,” said Lockette, though they've not yet done a formal survey.

Along with students seeming more awake, he said it hasn't really affected sporting activities. In fact, many teachers are coaches and there was a gap of when the students were done with school compared to the teachers. So, now there isn't much of a wait for practices to begin.

This fall, Quaker Valley School District has also adjusted start times by 15 minutes, from 7:45 to 8 a.m., for both high and middle schools, as a one-year pilot study, said Angela Conigliaro, director of communications.

A district survey to parents found them “overwhelmingly supportive of a later start time. More than 300 respondents shared their thoughts and 85 percent support the idea of a later school start time to ensure more sleep for students,” she said.

Shaler Area School District has the earliest start time for northern area school districts shortly after 7:15 a.m., according to a chart of start times provided by Loughead. High schools at North Hills and Pine Richland both begin at 7:20, according to each district's website. Latest are Deer Lakes and Northgate, which both begin after 8 a.m.

Loughead and the HTSD school board said they will look into Franzen coming to present his research at a future work session.

Student Council President Matt Bagley was present also at the meeting and said as a student he can see the benefits to each and was not ready to choose sides. But noted sport conflicts and that some high school students may have to be home to take care of their younger siblings.

Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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