Board still exploring later start for high school

School board directors and school administrators in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District are continuing their exploration into a later start time for high school students.

The board is set to begin an examination into the science behind the recommendations in September, according to board Vice President Jeff Hellrung.

He noted that views on smoking changed after science proved its dangerous effects. Attitudes toward seat-belt use also changed when studies showed they saved lives and reduced injuries.

“In my view,” Hellrung said, “our school start time initiative is a public health issue comparable in scale to what our society experienced with the issues of smoking and seat-belt usage.”

He said he would explain that more in depth during the public discussions, but said studies from Stanford University show sleep deprivation adversely affects human health.

The issue for students is that biological changes in teenagers affect their internal clocks and delay the secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone, making it more difficult for teenagers to get to sleep. Getting up early for school results in sleep deprivation.

“In the absence of disease,” Hellrung read, “there are three basic components of a healthy lifestyle: nutrition, physical fitness and sleep. In comparison to a lack of nutrition or physical exercise, a lack of sleep leads to serious consequences much more rapidly.”

He said those results can be deadly. A lack of sleep can affect mood, cognitive abilities, and the ability to drive or operate machinery, Hellrung said.

School Director Carolyn Daniels said U-CF has been on the forefront of the issue for two years and has formed the Healthy Hours Committee that will weigh the pros and cons of changing high school, and possibly middle school, start times.

A public presentation would give the public “a chance to hear the impressive amount of scientific data supporting this idea,” she said.

Daniels said no decision has been made yet, but the public forum would be to explore the feasibility of a possible change.

Ken Batchelor, the assistant to the superintendent, expanded on that idea, saying the district would consider flipping start times for high school and elementary school students, but that’s not the only option.

“There might be a model that we haven’t even thought of. And we want to look at the cost implication of all those models,” he said.

In addition to considering flipping the schedules, Batchelor said they would look at pushing all the schedules back.

“All options are on the table for discussion, even options that may come about through those discussions,” he said.

Bachelor said that after the board’s September meeting, the community would be brought into the discussion, including people who are for and against the change. The hope is to have some models to discuss in October and November.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.



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