Though the topic of a delayed start time at Greenwich High School was not on the agenda at the March Board of Education meeting at Julian Curtiss, where the school day happens to start at 8:15am, several parents brought it up during the public hearing.
In fact, the idea, while not new, has gained momentum since last summer when the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended middle and high schools delay the start of class until at least 8:30 am.
The start time at GHS is 7:30am.
Alex Buffone, a GHS junior and a member of the First Selectman’s Youth Commission, said his mother still gives him a lift to school, which he is grateful for. He said getting a ride to school buys back a few minutes of precious time.
While he looks forward to getting his license and driving to school, he pointed out that won’t necessarily save time. “When you get your license, you have to get there even earlier,” Alex said, describing traffic jams around GHS and shortage of parking spots for students.
For Alex, who has started the college process this year, spends 4-5 hours on nightly homework, and juggles a variety of activities, sleep is at a premium. “But you don’t want to be late to school,” he said. “With the new attendance policy, every three lates is equivalent to a cut. Three cuts and you lose credits.”
Holly Roth, who like Buffone is a member of the First Selectman’s Youth Commission, is a junior at Sacred Heart.
“My brother is a sophomore at GHS and he has to get up an hour and a half before me,” Roth said.
At last Thursday’s Board of Education meeting Dr. Rosa Fini, a Greenwich pediatrician with four children in Greenwich Schools, spoke in favor of delayed school start times, arguing that achievement and health would both increase.
“How many of our kids are using drugs to self-medicate to try to enhance their sleeping?” Dr. Fini asked. “A lot,” she answered.
Dr. Fini said that chronic sleep loss and accumulated ‘sleep debt’ increases risk of depression and harms academic performance. Dr. Fini said risks of chronic sleep loss include deficits in learning and memory, poor impulse control, increase risks for driving and physiologic health issues such as obesity, hypertension and drug use.
“Many GHS students are carving out time to nap during the day and in study halls,” Fini said. “How many feign sickness or actually become sick from lack of sleep and wind up in the nurse’s office? I know it happens because it happens to my own kids,” she said.”How much class time is missed due to oversleeping and refusal to go to school?” she asked.
Wheatleigh Dunham, a parent of three boys in Greenwich Public Schools said one of his son’s GHS coaches complained recently that his players come for practice “too tired.”
Dunham said that Wilton schools pushed back their start time successfully. “The logistics challenges were not insurmountable,” he said. He also pointed to examples of school districts that delayed their start time by an hour and saw standardized test results surge.
Beth O’Donnell, a license clinical psychologist in Greenwich spoke in favor of delayed start time. “I get calls from parents every week about behavior and academic problems in their teens. Parents who are calling because they are quite literally they are dragging their kids out of bed to get them to school on time, parents whose teens fight with them and argue every morning, or simply to go to school altogether,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell described phone calls from parents of teens who are doing what they are asked to do — getting up on their own and making it to school on time — but are depressed, demoralized or even sometimes suicidal. “Upon evaluation I always find that these teens are getting far too little sleep,” O’Donnell said.
The clinical psychologist said that teens today get less sleep than teens of previous generations. “They can’s solve the problem by going to bed earlier due the circadian shift that occurs during puberty and delays their falling asleep at night,” O’Donnell said.
The Board of Ed has said a survey of students, parents and teachers is in the works, though Mr. Dunham said, “we keep waiting and waiting.”