Later back-to-school times being considered to tackle youth mental health crisis

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(NEW YORK) — California was the first state to require high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Pediatrician Dr. Bert Mandelbaum hopes New Jersey will be second.

New Jersey is one of many states exploring late school start times, as educators and medical professionals grapple with concerns about the pandemic’s impact on young people’s mental health.

“I think we’re at the right time for people to be ready to listen and do the right thing for kids,” Mandelbaum, who chairs the Teen Sleep Task Force and Parents, told ABC News. American Academy of Pediatrics New Jersey school start times. . “I think the pandemic has made everyone aware of mental health needs.”

The task force has advocated for later start times for several years as a way to promote healthy sleep habits among teens, though Mandelbaum thinks the toll of the pandemic has helped lead state lawmakers on last month to introduce legislation that proposes to push back New Jersey statewide high school start times to no earlier than 8:30 a.m., beginning with the 2024-2025 school year. State Democrats says the bill “began the work of solving this national crisis of youth mental health”.

At a “tipping point”

Other states that have introduced similar bills during the pandemic include New York, where the proposal is at committee level, and Tennessee, where he was sent back to summer study. The Tennessee AAP chapter expressed support for the bill amid a “national children’s mental health emergency.”

Several school districts are also moving to later start times, including Denver and Philadelphia.

“I feel like we’ve reached a tipping point,” Phyllis Payne, implementation director of Start School Later, an organization that advocates for later school start times, told ABC News.

The AAP, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and American Academy of Sleep Medicine are among several health authorities that support later start times to allow students to get optimal sleep — which for teens is between 8 and 10 hours per night.

The CDC found that most middle and high school students don’t get enough sleep, making them more likely to perform poorly in school, engage in unhealthy risky behaviors and suffer from depressive symptoms, he said.

Later school start times align better with teens’ biological sleep rhythms, which force them to go to bed later, experts say.

Research at found that in high schools with delayed start times, beginning at 8:30 a.m., students slept more, academic performance and attendance rates improved, and car crashes involving teenage drivers decreased.

“A lot of high schools start at 7 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. — which puts these kids in this really terrible position,” Kimberly Fenn, associate professor of psychology and director of Michigan’s Sleep and Learning Lab, told ABC News. State University. . “Any amount they can withdraw will benefit the students.”

Early start times also often limit morning light exposure, which can impact student learning, according to Rebecca Spencer, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“When we wake up rather in the dark, we miss that external warning signal, that bright light that signals it’s time to wake up and helps you focus,” Spencer told ABC News. . “So if you take that away from children, it comes across as dizziness and inattentiveness, but it has wide ramifications. It will tell you how they’re going to function cognitively. It’ll tell you how their behavior is going to being, their behavior and their mood in the classroom.

For this and other reasons, many sleep experts have spoken out against a possible move to permanent daylight saving time, which Congress is currently considering instead of changing the clocks twice a year.

“I guess sleep scientists as a whole would say, OK, we should stop the bouncing back and forth. But following the standard time, from a sleep perspective, is the best way for you to have more often this light in the morning,” Spencer said. “It helps their cognitive function.”

“Change is hard”

The Edina School District was the first district in the United States to move to a later start time for its high school, moving from 7:20 a.m. at 8:30 a.m. in the 1996-1997 school year, According to research from the University of Minnesota.

Since then, other school districts across the country have made similar changes, though advocates of later start times believe tackling the problem at the state level will help solve logistical issues with the move. , such as parent work schedules and school sports programming.

“I think we’re at a point now where we recognize that it’s really the right thing to do,” Payne said. “But change is difficult. People don’t like change.

The California School Boards Association had opposed the California law due to logistical issues for families when it was passed in 2019. Before the state’s move to a later start-to-school time, which will take effect in July , a teacher argued in Cal Matters that politics is a “disaster in the making” for an already overwhelmed education system. In response, a sleep medicine doctor and student health advocate argued that change “has never been more urgent” due to the mental health consequences of the pandemic for young people.

Mandelbaum, who said he got involved in advocating for later school start times to promote the science behind the policy, has heard of only one instance where a school district that made the shift went back to his old, previous schedule. But it “failed due to poor implementation” – underscoring the need for all stakeholders to be involved from the start of the proposal process, he said.

For Mandelbaum, the pandemic has shown that schools can adapt quickly to change.

“Schools went virtual in a weekend,” he said. “The idea that we can do great things is there.”

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About Mark A. Tomlin

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