School countdown begins

The back to school countdown has begun. It's now T-minus 13 days before Unionville-Chadds Ford School District classes resume for the 2017-2018 academic year. The start date is Monday, Aug. 28.

What's new this year is the time classes will start. After four years of discussion and research, the school board voted in April to start classes later in the morning.

Classes for middle and high school students will begin at 8 a.m. and go to 2:43 p.m. For elementary school students, the school day will be from 9:10 a.m. to 3:40 p.m.

As previously reported, the reason for the change is that studies show adolescents need more sleep in the morning simply because they can no longer fall asleep as early as they did when they were younger. The board relied heavily on the work of Dr. Judith Owens, the director of sleep science at Boston Children's Hospital.

According to the presentation, Owens gave to district residents, it's almost impossible for an adolescent to fall asleep before 11 p.m., and they become biologically programmed to wake at 8 a.m. or later.

"These biological changes," she said, "are in direct conflict with earlier high school start times…As a result, students are required to wake for the day during the ‘circadian nadir' (the lowest level of alertness during the 24-hour day." As a result, students are in "a permanent state of jet lag."

The lack of adequate sleep can lead to emotional difficulties including depression and suicidal thoughts, behavioral issues, risky behavior and a decline in academic and physical performance and can lead to teen-driving accidents.

During the Aug. 14 School Board meeting, directors and John Nolen, the assistant to the superintendent, referred to the practice of letting students get extra sleep as "sleep hygiene."

While start times for high school and middle school students have only been moved back 25 minutes, the studies indicate that would still be beneficial. It was also felt that the 25-minute shift was the least intrusive change.

While classes will begin later, drop off times for the elementary schools will be a little earlier.

Nolen said drop off times at schools were about 8:40 a.m. in previous years, but will now be 8:30. He said that would give the younger students time to have breakfast at the school.

In addition to new start times, there is also a change brewing in the district's immunization policy. According to Superintendent John Sanville, the state changed the law on immunizations in April. Before this year, students who were behind in their required immunizations had eight months to get caught up. Now, however, it's five days for an immunization that requires a series of shots, Sanville said, but if it's a single immunization, students have to be compliant on the first day of class.

The district will contact parents of students behind in their shots.

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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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