Editorial: School districts should consider later start times

Yet another study has confirmed what many parents already know: Teenagers often have a tough time getting up early in the morning — and that can have detrimental consequences throughout their day.

As reported in Tuesday’s Tribune, a study conducted in Chicago showed that students who started their school day at 8:30 a.m., rather than 8 a.m., were more alert, in better moods and had fewer instances of tardiness.

And it isn’t just sociability and school performance at stake; in earlier studies conducted in other cities, teen drivers who started school later in the morning had fewer car crashes.

An early bedtime can help students avoid the pitfalls of too little sleep, but that’s not easy for parents to enforce. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers’ internal body clocks cause them to fall asleep later at night and wake later in the morning.

The medical journal that initially reported the Chicago study — the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine — stops short of recommending that all schools adopt later start times, but it does question why more campuses aren’t changing their schedules.

Good point — we suspect some local parents may be wondering the same thing.

Granted, a start time of 7:45 or 8 a.m. may not seem unduly harsh for teenagers, and some may consider it excellent training for the world of work. But consider that many San Luis Obispo County students — especially in our more rural areas — face bus rides of 40 or 50 minutes, which means they have to wake up at 6 a.m. or even earlier to get to school on time.

If local school districts haven’t already done so, we strongly urge them to take a look at all the data on this topic and if warranted, to consider adjusting to a later start time.

We recognize that such a change wouldn’t be as simple as it sounds — bus transportation, timing of after-school activities, staff and faculty work schedules and other logistics must all be considered.

Yet it wouldn’t necessarily require a radical switch to see some improvement. As studies have shown, starting even 30 minutes later can lead to substantial benefits for students.

With so many cuts to educational programming, this is one initiative that could be implemented at relatively little cost but with the potential to make a big difference for students. School officials should take the time to consider it.