Later high school start times pushed by Phyllis Payne of SLEEP

Although Phyllis Payne was not able to get to the public hearing Tuesday  night, she prepared the following written testimony for the Fairfax County school board:

“The health of our children is one of the most important factors in maintaining and raising student achievement.”[1](Dr. Dale, Superintendent)

Good evening.  My name is Phyllis Payne; I’m here to speak on behalf of 9,100 members of SLEEP and 175,000 students in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).

I believe you can provide a healthy school environment and save money, too.  Studies continue to show a connection between healthy high school start times and positive outcomes for students, including some benefits that could decrease costs for the school system and other benefits that would decrease costs for families and the community.

A study just published shows that delaying school starting time by one hour could enhance students’ cognitive performance by improving their attention level and increasing their rate of performance, as well as reducing their mistakes and impulsivity.  The study confirms previous findings that teens with later morning start times do sleep longer each night.

How much are we spending to teach to sleeping students?

How much could we save on remediation if students were able to attend to the information the first time it is presented?

How many more students would graduate if not handicapped by exhaustion?

How many car crashes could be avoided?

Could we also prevent discipline problems and improve behavior by reducing teen mistakes and impulsivity?  Talk about positive behavior intervention support!

Schools with later high school start times have found improved behavior and fewer visits to the clinic and to school counselors, decreases in depression, and improved graduation rates.

Since you still haven’t provided start times that are in sync with teen sleep clocks, I believe that you should provide additional high school psychologists and social workers to help our teens cope with what is basically “shift work”.

We continue to have a large number of students suffering from mental health problems. More than 1 in 4 of our teens report “feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities.”[i] (The classic definition of depression)

According to the Virginia Academy of Sleep Medicine,

Young people who do not get enough sleep may be overly active, misbehave, have problems paying attention, or suffer declines in school performance. Sleep deprivation is sometimes misdiagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

 Sleep-deprived young people may have difficulty getting along with others, may be angry and impulsive, or lack motivation. Research has linked decreased sleep (even 25 minutes less on school nights) to lower grades in adolescents.”

So?  When you discuss prevention and positive behavior intervention supports, I hope that you will think about how to arrange the school day to provide school schedules that are appropriate for our high school students – schedules that work with their growing brains and bodies instead of against them–schedules that protect them instead of placing them at increased risk.

Another study just published indicates that students in Virginia Beach with start times like ours have a 41 percent higher weekday car crash rate than those in adjacent Chesapeake, Virginia where classes start at 8:40-8:45 a.m.

According to the lead researcher (by the way, an alumnus from Fairfax County Public Schools) and a doctor in internal medicine at Eastern Va. Medical School, says “We believe that high schools should take a close look at having later start times to align with circadian rhythms in teens and to allow for longer sleep times,” he said. [Sic] “Too many teens in this country obtain insufficient sleep. Increasingly, the literature suggests that this may lead to problematic consequences including mood disorders, academic difficulties and behavioral issues.”

While you continue to struggle with political and bureaucratic inertia, please direct the Superintendents of Instructional and Special Services to allow parents to protect our own children by choosing an appropriate schedule. At the very least, INFORM FAMILIES OF THE EXISTING REGULATION THAT PERMITS STUDENTS TO OPT OUT OF A FULL-DAY SCHEDULE OR MAKE IT EASIER TO TAKE AN ONLINE COURSE IN PLACE OF FIRST PERIOD.

SEVENTY-ONE OF 95 COUNTIES IN VIRGINIA HAVE HIGH SCHOOL START TIMES AFTER 8:00 A.M.  We are tired of hearing excuses about why Fairfax can’t do the same for our children.


1 Dr. Dale, Superintendent of FCPS, Letter to the Planning Committee for the Superintendent’s School Nutrition Task Force, 12.07.10

[i] Fairfax County 2009 Youth Survey

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2 Comments on “Later high school start times pushed by Phyllis Payne of SLEEP”

  1. dn says:

    For middle and high school students beginning morning classes before 8:30 a.m., adolescent circadian biology collides with class scheduling five days a week. In most instances, sleep deprivation is the result. As Ms. Payne notes, sleep loss in this population is associated with negative health and academic outcomes, including increased frequency of automobile crashes, the leading cause of death among adolescents. http://www.cdc.gov/MotorVehicleSafety/Teen_Drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html
    http://www.schoolstarttime.org


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