Letter: Scientific evidence in favor of later start times is overwhelming

Letter submitted by Jonathan Perloe, Sept. 19, 2016

Dear Members of the Greenwich Board of Education:

I am writing to urge that on September 22 you unanimously approve the implementation of later school start times to take effect for the 2017-18 school year as recommended to you last spring by Superintendent McKersie.

The scientific evidence in favor of later start times is overwhelming: first that sleep deprivation is a significant public health issue and second that later middle and high school start times is a key solution that has broad benefits for teens’ physical and mental health, safety and academic achievement.

As 33 Greenwich medical and behavioral health experts wrote in Greenwich Time, “The American Academy of Pediatrics describes a school start time of no earlier than 8:30 am for adolescents as ‘an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss’ that ‘has a wide range of potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement.’”

Ironically, on the very day last June that you continued to delay your decision on later start times, the American Medical Association joined other highly respected medical organizations to recommend that middle and high schools should start no earlier than 8:30am.

AMA Board Member William Kobler, M.D. said, “Sleep deprivation is a growing public health issue affecting our nation’s adolescents, putting them at risk for mental, physical and emotional distress and disorders.” Like so many other experts before him, he continued, “Scientific evidence strongly suggests that allowing adolescents more time for sleep at the appropriate hours results in improvements in health, academic performance, behavior, and general well-being.”

While substantial logistical changes will be needed to implement later start times, and both teachers and parents will have to adapt to schedules that may be less convenient to their current daily routines, there is simply no reason not to follow the recommendation of health experts when the cost of doing so is so high.

Many independent schools in Greenwich start later. Much larger school districts such as Seattle have implemented later start times. In earlier years Greenwich High School had a later start time. Some of you have expressed concerns about the impact to athletic activities. Athletics offer important benefits to students, but should not outweigh the academic and health needs of the entire student population.

Much has been said of the cost of the change, a discussion I find disingenuous in one of the world’s wealthiest communities. The cost is a fraction of the Town’s annual budget. Some of you have expressed concerns that the cost would need to be covered by cuts from elsewhere in the school budget. I see no rationale for that and I have heard no effort by you to lobby the Board of Estimate and Taxation for incremental funds to cover the costs.

This summer I watched as the Town replaced a mile long stretch of sidewalk from Indian Rock Lane to the Post Road. The sidewalk was in perfectly acceptable condition. The Town has enough money to install pretty granite curbs, but not enough to care for the academic needs and health concerns of its children? Really? (BET, are you listening?)

While the monetary and non-monetary benefits won’t accrue exclusively to the Greenwich Public Schools, one can only imagine the value of the societal benefits of lower rates of depression, vehicle accidents, general health and improved academic performance.

As Henry Ford said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” According to your Board of Education policy, one of the three missions of the Greenwich Public Schools is “to educate all students to the highest levels of academic achievement.”

On this topic, it’s long past time to fulfill that mission. Please approve later start times for the 2017-18 academic year.

Thank you,

Jonathan Perloe

Cos Cob, CT

The author is Vice Chair – Communications for the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee although the views expressed here are his own.