Science says later school start times are healthier. Some High Desert schools aren’t so sure

Chris Aranda, Daily Press, August 1, 2022

Most High Desert middle and high school students will start their days later this year after a bill that prohibits most California high schools from starting classes before 8:30 a.m. and middle schools from beginning instruction before 8 a.m. was passed by the California State Legislature and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom.

The start time changes were supported by medical professionals and associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which all found school shouldn’t start until 8:30 a.m. or later so that teens can get a recommended 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep.

Students and faculty at University Preparatory School, a two-time recipient of the National Blue Ribbon Award and one of the Top 500 schools in the United States, is taking the time change in stride, will adapt to the changes, and continue its legacy of excellence, Principal Valerie Hatcher said.

“Because University Preparatory started at 7 a.m., it is going to be a big shift,”  Hatcher said.

University Preparatory and other High Desert schools have multiple after-school programs, including mock trial, tutoring, sports, and clubs that will now start later in the day.

In response to how the new policy may challenge athletes, University Preparatory has added a new athletic physical education class for high school athletes as well as morning practices to mitigate any academic losses that athletes would incur due to the time change, Hatcher said.

Students chime in 

High Desert students have mixed feelings about the change. While some students are happy they may receive extra time to sleep in, others don’t see the later start times as effective.

“I feel that it will ultimately have very little effect on the amount of rest students are really getting because their sleep schedules will just be pushed back a couple of hours,” said Julie Mahho, a senior at University Preparatory.

The time change will negatively affect some seniors this upcoming school year, Mahho said.

“Being a senior this year means having to find time to complete volunteering/community service hours which can be difficult when you get out of school later in the afternoon. It will give us less time to come home and complete assignments or study on the days that we have these kinds of activities after school,” Mahho said.


However, not all High Desert middle and high schools will adhere to the new state policy.

Apple Valley High School will continue its 7:01 a.m. start time because the law exempted rural schools, said Zoe Widener, the Public Information Officer at AVHS.

Because a specific definition of a  “rural district” is not provided, and in accordance with the Town of Apple Valley, AVHS envisions themselves as a rural school district, she said.

University Preparatory begins its 2022-2023 school year Aug. 8, and Apple Valley High School will start its school year on Aug. 3.

School start times weren’t always early 

Early school start times are a relatively new phenomenon, according to the National Center for Health Research. In the 1950s and 60s, most schools started between 8:30 and 9 a.m., health policy analyst Diana Zuckerman writes, but by 2000, many high schools began at 7:30 a.m. or earlier.

One study by the University of Rochester Medical Center says today’s early start times increase students’ risk of developing depression and anxiety, and experts agree that early wake-up calls lead to a sleep-deprived generation that will experience the consequences far into the future.

“As experts in the field have made clear, the early start times that have been typical for high schools are like the worst idea you can imagine,” Zuckerman said. “If you were designing something to make it very difficult for high school students to learn and concentrate, this is what you would design. It’s so clear that this is a bad idea.”

For Dr. Bert Mandelbaum, a pediatrician with Princeton Nassau Pediatrics and school physician in New Jersey, the decision to implement a later start time is a no-brainer.

Teens’ biological clocks are wired to fall asleep around 11 p.m., Mandelbaum said, and teens’ brains don’t come out of sleep mode until about eight hours later. Elementary school children — whose school start times are typically later — are biologically programmed to wake and be more alert earlier.

The data supports the finding that with later start times, bedtimes do not change, and students gain an average of almost a minute of sleep for every minute of delayed school start times,  Mandelbaum said. Tardiness, absences, and automobile accidents decrease, and academic performances increase. Parents also report their teens are in better moods, he said.

Teresa Stewart, a child sleep consultant and board member of the Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children, says adolescents between 10 and 24 years old cannot fall asleep as early as when they were younger and need more sleep.

Stewart says adolescents’ sleep/wake cycle or body clock is on a two-to-three hour delay, meaning teens aren’t physically able to fall into a deep, restorative sleep until as late as 11 p.m., no matter what time they go to bed.

And because adolescents need between seven and nine hours of deep sleep per night, a 6 a.m. wake-up time is unhealthy, she said.

“If you’re asking a kid to wake up from their deep sleep stage day after day after day, they’re building up sleep debt, and they’re not getting the healthy sleep they need,” Stewart said. “We always talk to our kids about the evils of junk food, right? This is essentially junk sleep.”

To read the the entire article, click here.