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Department of Education might have to look at later school start times


On Thursday, August 23, 2018, State Senator Andrew E. Dinniman (D) announced that he is preparing to introduce legislation to require the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to conduct a study of issues, benefits and options related to instituting a later start time to the school day in secondary schools (middle and high schools). The senator, who serves District 19 comprising part of Berks County, also stated that Representative Alexander Charlton (R, Delaware County) has similar legislation in the House.

Dinneman’s proposed legislation would require PDE to consider the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics of later school start times and include an assessment of the health, academic and safety benefits associated with establishing them. Additionally, the legislation would require the department to evaluate any potentially negative impacts that may be associated with later school start times.

In June 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a study of how teen sleep habits affect their cardiovascular health. Researchers examined the teens’ body fatness, blood pressure, lipids and insulin resistance. They found that inadequate sleep was highly prevalent with 31 percent of the teens sleeping fewer than seven hours each night. Adolescents with shorter sleep duration had the least healthy cardiovascular and metabolic profiles – including increased body fat, higher systolic blood pressure, and lower HDL-cholesterol.

Four years ago, in August 2014, the AAP recommended that secondary schools delay the start of class until 8:30 a.m. or later. Doing so would align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty. According to the National Sleep Foundation, this shift means it is natural for an adolescent not to be able to fall asleep before 11 p.m.

“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the AAP policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents.”

The AAP has reported that many studies show that the average adolescent in the U.S. is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy. A National Sleep Foundation poll found 59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting fewer than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.

In his statement about his intended legislation, Dinneman said that, “Research has shown that adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to suffer from physical and mental health problems, suicide ideation, and are at an increased risk of being involved in an automobile accident and are more likely to decline in academic performance. The US Department of Health’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health has made sufficient sleep for high school students an objective of their Healthy People 2020 Program, and the National Sleep Foundation notes the consequences of sleep deprivation during teenage years are especially serious.”

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