Student Well-Being

Should Teens Start School Later? Educators Have Strong Feelings

By Caitlyn Meisner — August 25, 2023 5 min read
Teaching assistant Leonardo Baker, right, greets students arriving at Franklin High School on Dec. 12, 2018, in Seattle. High school students are getting more sleep in Seattle, according to a study on later school start times. Teenagers at Franklin and another Seattle high school wore activity monitors to discover whether a later start to the school day would help them get more sleep. It did, adding 34 minutes of slumber a night, and they reported less daytime sleepiness and grades improved.
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The subject of later start times for middle and high school students is not a new topic of conversation. For years, experts have advocated for older students to start their school days later than elementary students. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy recommendation back in 2014, stating that school districts should consider pushing start times to 8:30 a.m. or later for older students.

Most research on this topic cites insufficient sleep for teenagers; once adolescents begin puberty, they experience a “phase delay”—or later sleep onset and wake times. In contrast to younger children, adolescents struggle to fall asleep at earlier bedtimes because of biological changes. The result of too little sleep during the week likely causes adolescents to catch up on sleep over the weekend, further disrupting their circadian rhythms.

A recent Education Week piece on the topic sparked dozens of comments on social media. Educators across the country weighed in on the difficulty of changing bus schedules, the role of parents in ensuring students get enough sleep, and the importance for students to learn personal responsibility. Here’s a roundup of their thoughts.

Bus schedules will suffer

Changing school start times, some educators pointed out, would upend bus schedules. Making the change for everyone—parents, teachers, and younger students—would be rather daunting, they said.

“Bus and transportation issues are a real problem in an economy where we can’t hire enough bus drivers and kids have to wait around 20-30 minutes after school is over (later than ever) for the bus to actually show up from doing the earlier runs at the other earlier starting schools in district.”

Brett G.

“There are so many challenges to starting school later in large cities or compacted areas. Where I live sometimes a bus ride home during rush hour can take 3-4hrs. Plus with driver shortages, violence on school busses, and family needs (caring for and picking up siblings), economic needs, etc. This where practicality devours theory.”

Robert M.

“There’s already a lack of buses in the afternoon to get kids home. Later start and finish would mean absolutely no buses to get home.”

Lindsay W.

Parents need to do more to ensure healthy sleep

Educators called on parents to take a larger role in shaping their children’s sleep schedules.

“This isn’t a school problem. If students need more rest, then parents should provide a home structure that allows for bedtimes and/or more rest.”

Robert M.

“If the kids are staying up later, then I’d argue that falls on the shoulders of the parents and the district should work to find ways to educate the parents about the sleep needs of adolescents (speaking as the father of a 13-year-old, it’s amazing what happens when you lock the phone *down*).”

Geoffrey S.

“Isn’t school mostly there so parents can be separated from the kids to go make money for the house and car they can’t afford? Feeling salty today... But if school times change then parents would have even more issues getting to work on time, employers are not understanding. Not to mention the before and after school care options are rarely affordable for the average family, and forget it if you’re a single income.”

Emily E.

Focus on student responsibility

Educators also pointed to the responsibility of students to make sure they get enough sleep to be successful since the working world will not accommodate them.

“As a veteran teacher, our school district in California has started later the last two years. The students just stay up later each night now than before. They are just as tired as before. I get home much later from work as well, which is not good either. I wish our state would go back to 8:30 a.m. start time, not 8:50 a.m.”

Scott A.

“No matter when the school day starts teens will resist arriving on time. I worked in the front office of a middle school for eight years, so I know. Instead: offer a library period or a study hall for first period. Most students will arrive on time. Those who don’t arrive on time won’t be penalized. You might want to consider that showing up late for a job isn’t an option nor is showing up late for university classes. Accommodating preferences doesn’t necessarily have a long term benefit.”

Amaya B.

“We are raising adults. Adults get jobs. Jobs require early start times.”

Amelia P.

Advocating for change

Many educators came to the defense of experts, citing personal experiences and potential benefits of switching to a later start time.

“Or…give them SAY in their class schedule so that perhaps their first class starts early (or starts later, if that’s the first class they need) and as a school, be okay with that! Let them choose classes, like Concurrent Enrollment college classes) that get them purposeful classes that will do something for their future. There are 4,999 excuses why we should not do something. Let’s think of the one reason WHY we should do something and try that for a change.”

Josh S.

“My middle school starts at 9:15 a.m. Teachers get there at 8:15 and we use that time for planning and staff meetings. Yes, students are still tired, but they are a lot less tired than they would be starting at 8 a.m.!”

Ashley B.

“My first 15 years teaching in a metro-Atlanta county were in a system where Middle school started at 9:30! Buses ran an elementary, middle, & high school route—no mix of those kids on buses!! It. Was. Beautiful.”

Crystal W.

“I think the point of this deals more with districts like in my area where high schools take in at around 7:05, tardy bell at 7:15, 7:20. While the elementary schools take in the latest—which is weird as elementary age kids tend to wake up earliest.”

Bonnie M.

“Jobs do not necessarily require early start times—perhaps during the agrarian period; not so in today’s society— it just requires a culture shift!”

Kathleen C.

“This isn’t new. Sleep studies of teens found they tend to stay up later and get to sleep later. Since they need more sleep during this time in their lives, it makes sense they get up later in the morning!”

Kathy S.

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