Update: How Early is Too Early? Teens up and off to School Before the Sun Comes Up: Right or Wrong?

There are now 500 signatures on the online petition as of Wednesday to change start time for high school students.

Update/Oct.19: There are now 500 signatures on the later start times for high school students petition on the White House's "We the People" website. Terra Snider's husband Jim Snider, wrote about the website in a post appearing Oct. 11 on the Huffington Post. The Patch poll on the topic has over 200 responses, 84 percent in favor of later high school start times. If this petition gets 5,000 online signatures by Nov. 02, 2011, the White House will review it and issue an official response.

Update/Oct. 17: Terra Snider reports that there are now 300 signatures on the petition. The Patch poll reveals respondents are in favor of later start times for high school students.

Update/Oct. 14: This post has brought in quite a response from Patch readers and it will be shared among other Patch sites throughout Anne Arundel County. Please see the comments below if you are having trouble signing the petition. There is also a poll attached to the story. So far, the poll suggests that citizens are voting for later start times for schools.

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 number one priority. Shouldn't we?

The CAC (and the now defunct countywide CAC) have been working on the issue of high school start time for years, decades even - to no avail. 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 5000 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.

*Patch has attached a poll to this post, weigh-in on the topic below.

Patti Hershfeldt October 24, 2011 at 11:20 AM
Thanks for that clarification Terra. I guess my main concern with adjusting the start time is 'what will get cut?' I'm the parent of high school athlete who leaves for school early, gets off school, attends practice, comes home and spends at least 4 hours on homework. By that time it's 9:30 pm. What's the suggested revised daily schedule? Perhaps that's in the above materials you've referenced.
Terra Snider October 24, 2011 at 11:40 AM
Yes, the schoolstarttime.org website is incredibly thorough in giving many examples of schools that did manage to change their schedules--and evidence that not only did kids get more sleep but rates of absenteeism & truancy dropped, auto accidents decreased, and teens got more sleep! In addition, they were able to play on sports teams, hold down jobs, etc. I've lived in systems where the school hours changed, and what I saw was that the world always adjusts to school hours. (Why AA County has to have the earliest start time in the state, and one of the earliest in the entire country,or why no one consulted the public when they moved the hour to 7:17 back in the 1980s are whole other questions.) As you're beginning to see, however, whenever the idea of changing start times is raised, all sorts of concerns start coming out of the woodwork. The vast majority of them are red herrings, myths, but the opposition that inevitably arises is exactly why I think we need to set a simple minimum earliest limit on how early any school can start. I see it as a basic child proteciton law. Otherwise, what's to stop us from starting even earlier every time we need to save a little money? Why not 6 am start? Or 5? Or 4--that would certainly save on fuel costs!
Terra Snider October 25, 2011 at 09:01 PM
Great news! We just hit 1000 signatures on the school start time petition! Every one of these signatures reflects a lot of hard work (and I’m happy to say much of it from Severna Park!). The less great news is that we’re still only 1/5 of the way to the 5000 we need in just over a week (Nov. 2) for a White House response. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, please go to http://wh.gov/2qJ to add your name. It would be wonderful if everyone who supports this idea could also help get a chain going in the next few days, starting with our own families (any American aged 13 or over can sign). Just sending a the link to 10 friends anywhere in the US and asking them to sign and send the link to 10 more, etc.—we could actually make this work. I know everyone’s busy, but please consider how much good we could do if we all just took a few minutes. It would be such a shame to squander this opportunity to bring such a critical and longstanding issue to national attention. (And, by the way, there’s a new petition on the We the People website asking that the petitions be given more than 30 days. We should sign that, too, although, ironically, this petition itself expires on Oct. 27. The link to that one is http://wh.gov/4NJ).
Mary King October 26, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Hi Leslie, Are there any more Patch sites posting this petition? Any luck on the other avenue you mentioned? Time is running out.
Jan Harrison November 16, 2011 at 05:38 PM
All AAC public high schools start at 7:17am, not just Severna Park.


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