CHARLES TOWN — Jefferson County school board members say they are taking seriously a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics that maintains that children are starting school too early in the morning.
According to the AAP, classes for middle and high school students should start at 8:30 a.m. or later. Studies show that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance.
Jefferson County Board of Education President Scott Sudduth said the report “deserves careful attention.” He said his son Jack, 12, has to catch a bus before 7 a.m. to be at school at the start of the day at 7:45 a.m.
“We might consider flipping the time school starts,” Sudduth said. “Have the elementary students, who start school at 8:30 a.m., start earlier.”
Sudduth said school officials in Fairfax County, Va., will soon be voting on delaying the time school starts.
“I have been hearing from parents about this for the past year or so,” Sudduth said. “I know logistically this can be challenging, but that’s no reason to not consider change.”
The average adolescent in the United States is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy, the report notes. 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 less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.
Jefferson County has two high schools and four middle schools.
Board member Kathryn Skinner said student welfare is a priority. She agreed that changing schedules with elementary students could be a possibility.
“There is no reason that couldn’t be considered,” Skinner said. “We need to explore that and other options. We want to see how the community feels and find a smart way to do it. One of the biggest fears people have is fear of change, but we can overcome any issue.”
Board member Laurie Ogden said she looked forward to future discussions on the subject.
“Any time you have strong statistical evidence you need to look at it,” she said.
Ogden said schools might not have kept pace with lifestyle changes for Jefferson County, which was once largely an agricultural community
“Life is very different now,” Ogden said. “Years ago, young people got to bed earlier. In Jefferson County, we’re a bedroom community for Washington, D.C. Many parents commute and don’t get home until late. They want to spend time with their children so the kids stay up later.”