At Berkeley High, school usually starts at 8:27 a.m — a late start time compared to many high schools across America, where students are often at their desks before sunrise. Even in Berkeley, students taking special classes like band start around 10 minutes before the sun comes up in the winter months.
A number of Californians, including some Berkeley residents, have signed a national online petition to prevent public schools from starting before 8 a.m. The petitioners claim that starting school early is not only ineffective, but also detrimental to student health.
Teens need around nine-and-a-half hours of sleep per night for optimal performance, according to the National Sleep Foundation, but the average is fewer than seven hours of sleep on a school night.
"Adolescent sleep deprivation is largely driven by a conflict between teens’ internal biological clocks and the schedules and demands of society," states the National Sleep Foundation on their Backgrounder page about later school start times. "Therefore, it makes sense to look at school start times, which set the rhythm of the day for students, parents, teachers and members of the community at large."
Sleepy teenagers find it harder to concentrate, according to Terra Snider, who created the petition. But the knock-on effects are even more drastic, according to Snider, citing "considerable research". Lack of sleep, coupled with a crack-of-dawn school start time, can lead to truancy and absenteeism, as well as depression, mood swings, impulse control, tobacco and alcohol use, impaired cognitive function and decision-making, obesity, stimulant abuse, automobile accidents, and suicide.
"Surely if we know students learn better, and are healthier and safer, with different hours, we should make that our number one priority," wrote Snider .
The petition needs 5,000 signatures before the close of Wednesday, Nov. 2 for the White House to do an official review.
This article has been edited after publication to reflect actual start times at Berkeley High School.