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Poll: Should High School Start Later in the Morning?

Today is the deadline to sign a petition that would require high schools to start later than 8 a.m.

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. 

Linda Currie November 02, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Your article is not quite accurate. The official start time for BHS is 8:27 am Tues-Fri., except late start on Mondays, 9:57 am. There are several classes that have the early start, like band and some labs, but first period begins at the above times. I don't think there should be any classes starting at 7:30 am, but not everything can be after school either. -Linda Currie, mother of two BHS students
Emily Henry (Editor) November 02, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Thanks, Linda, for pointing that out. The 00 period had been included in the original text here, but has now been updated to reflect the 8:27 a.m. start time.
Heather Wood November 03, 2011 at 01:42 AM
I think starting school no earlier than 8:30 is fair. Before 8 p.m. is absurd. I'm sure the teachers and staff wouldn't mind a little extra time in the a.m. as well.
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. November 05, 2011 at 03:44 AM
Unfortunately, many people had trouble signing the We the People petition due to technical glitches with the website. Fortunately, there's now a new petition up--same request--via SignOn.org. If you support this issue, you can add your name by going to http://bit.ly/tWa4dS . Whenever your particular schools start, the idea behind this petition is to make sure that no child, of any age, has to be off and out to school at times not conducive to learning, safety, or health--now, or in the future.
Maribel Ibrahim January 22, 2012 at 03:09 AM
The Start School Later petition, http://bit.ly/tWa4dS, now has close to 2700 signatures!
Mary King March 07, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Update: We're taking this petition (http://bit.ly/tWa4dS) to Capitol Hill in the morning. We only need about 90 signatures to make our goal of 5000! If you haven't signed yet, please sign now and ask your friends and family members to sign (anyone at least 15 years old can sign). Thanks so much from your East Coast friends!
asad June 06, 2012 at 08:14 PM
school should start at 10:00am
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. June 06, 2012 at 08:33 PM
A delegation from Start School Later will be meeting tomorrow with Representative Zoe Lofgren (CA-16), who has repeatedly introduced legislation supporting a minimum school start time in sync with adolescent sleep needs. We also recently met with Rep Mike Honda's (CA-15) educational fellow on this issue and are very encouraged by the support from California legislators. Although we've already reached our goal of 5,000 names, our online petition remains open, and additional signatures and comments, particularly from northern California, would be very helpful: http://bit.ly/tWa4dS. For more info on the growing national initiative to ensure safe, healthy school hours for all, see www.StartSchoolLater.net.

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