Later start time for U-CF students

Older students in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District will be able to sleep in a little longer beginning next year. School Board directors last night voted 8-1 for a later start time for high school and middle school students beginning with the 2017-2018 academic year.

Classes at Unionville High School and CF Patton Middle School will start 25 minutes later, at 8 a.m., instead of the current 7:35 a.m. The school day will end at 2:43 p.m. instead of 2:18.

Elementary school students will have a change in time also. Their classes will start 15 minutes later than they do now, beginning at 9:10 a.m. instead of 8:55. Elementary school classes will end at 3:40 p.m.

The lone vote against the change came from Director Gregg Lindner who said he favors the change, but not until the 2018-2019 school year. 

Lindner — who represents Region C, comprising Chadds Ford and Pennsbury townships — said waiting the extra year would give parents, businesses and the district’s transportation department more time to prepare for and adjust to the change.

“I do not disagree with a 25-minute change in the start-time for the middle school and high school,” Lindner said taking part in the meeting while on the phone from Germany. “The difference is I think it should go into effect in 2018-2019…I don’t think we’ve given enough time to adjust all the schedules.”

Studies leading up to the vote had been going on for three years. Students, members of the Chester County Intermediate Unit, parents, teachers and administrators reviewed scientific reports and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The district also formed a committee strictly to review the scientific literature.

Director Jeff Hellrung, who has advocated for the change almost from the beginning of discussions, said voting for the change was an intuitive and logical decision.

“If we knew that most of our teenagers, due to a developmental condition that comes with puberty, were not able to get the sleep they need due to our early start times, wouldn’t we want to help them,” he asked rhetorically.

Hellrung spoke of the “detrimental effect” a lack of sleep has on cognitive performance and that it “leads to an increase of mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, substance abuse and suicide.” He also said there is a degradation of immune response caused by a lack of sleep.

“Since 2014, there’s been an increasing chorus of pleas from our doctors and sleep experts, including the American Academy of Pediatricians, American Medical Association and Centers for Disease Control that our teens start their school days no earlier than 8:30 a.m.,” he said.

Hellrung called the lack of sleep “a public health crisis” and said hundreds of schools across the country have already made the change to later start times “but not yet in Pennsylvania.”

He also acknowledged the difficulty in implementing the time shift that calls for coordinating changes in bus schedules, transportation, after-school activities such as athletics and student jobs, as well as child-care concerns for parents.

School Director Carolyn Daniels said the district engaged in a “detailed and thorough investigation” of the idea and that investigation resulted in the change.

“This proposal comes out of months and months of research,” Daniels said.

All the scientific research studied pointed to a need for a later start time for the teenage students because of changes to their biological clock. As people reach their teen years, they produce melatonin — the sleep hormone — later than they did when they were younger, making it impossible for them to get to sleep before 11 p.m.

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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