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posted: 11/2/2015 3:04 PM

Editorial: Stevenson's move to later start time a local test case

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  • Stevenson High School plans to start school at 8:30 next year to combat student fatigue

    Stevenson High School plans to start school at 8:30 next year to combat student fatigue

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

The toughest part about change often is finding someone to be first.

On the issue of pushing school start times back later in the morning to be more in line with identified teenage sleep patterns, Stevenson High School will take the lead in the suburbs.

The Lincolnshire school has announced that starting in the next academic year, it will begin classes 25 minutes later at 8:30 a.m.

School officials cited the national drumbeat from pediatric health experts espousing the benefits to giving teens more sleep.

The issue has caught the attention of several suburban districts, including Naperville Unit District 203, Elgin Area School District U-46, Barrington Unit District 220, and recently, Lincolnshire-Prairieview Elementary District 103. All are studying the issue.

In previous editorials, we've said this is an idea worth considering. The hope here is Stevenson will now be a resource to help accelerate and aid studies in these districts and others.

Such a change will not be right for every district. It's not an easy switch because changing the school day will cause a ripple effect on other issues, ranging from after-school programs to busing and parent schedules.

However, the examination Stevenson has done in making its decision and the preparation it will do to implement the change could provide a valuable road map for others.

As a high school and not a unit district, Stevenson will have to consider the fallout on nearby elementary districts -- that's a good test case for many area high schools to watch and evaluate.

At stake is something U.S. health experts say is a major issue among teenagers involving sleep deprivation caused by the late-night hours they keep, not simply as a matter of discipline but by virtue of their physical development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are among the health authorities that have issued policy statements advocating later school start times. "The evidence is so compelling," Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at the Boston Children's Hospital, told staff writer Russell Lissau.

School districts elsewhere that have pushed back start times have seen an improvement in student performance, experts have said. Later start times also have led to fewer car accidents involving teenagers in those communities, fewer "depressive symptoms" among students and cost savings for schools.

Since the mid-1990s about 70 school districts nationwide have changed to later start times. Until now, the only one in Illinois is in the Harlem district in Machesney Park, near Rockford, where, since 2007, the high school and middle school days run from 8:55 a.m. to 3:46 p.m.

The addition of Stevenson gives other suburban district what amounts to a local test case to review as they consider how far they can go in addressing this health issue.

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