The Vernon Township Board of Education opened discussion last Thursday to explore whether it’s worth it to alter school hours to maximize student achievement.
According to American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control, it is recommended that middle and high schools begin their day at 8:30 a.m. or later.
"Adjusting school start times particularly at Vernon High School until after 8:30 a.m. cannot happen given the current athletics schedule," Superintendent Karen D'Avino said in a statement. "We have a vibrant athletic program that many students are involved in.
According to the CDC, teenagers aged 13-18 need about 8-10 hours of sleep to remain in good health, and students who get less sleep are more likely to be overweight, not engage in physical activity, suffer symptoms of depression, engage in behaviors such as drinking or smoking, and perform poorly in school.
Board of Education member Michael Peek said later start times may not necessarily lead to more sleep.
“There’s a difference between later start times and sleep times and they don’t equate,” Peek said. “If you push back start time and hour, that doesn’t mean you’ll get an extra hour of sleep.”
Board of Education Vice President Justin Annunziata suggested that by starting school at 7 a.m. they are failing the physiological needs of their students.
Vernon Township High School begins its day at 7:15 a.m.
Peek also said changing the start time doesn’t affect the time students go to bed.
“If you start school an hour later, they might only get an additional half-hour of sleep,” he said.
Board of Education member Mark Cilli asked if any other area schools have done this.
“We need to learn from those who have taken this step before we have,” he said.
The Randolph School District had previously pushed the high school hours to 45 minutes later, but had to scale back to starting only 30 minutes later because the kids couldn’t get to athletic events that started at 4 p.m. with the later ending to school.
Vernon’s location also would provide a challenge for athletics as often teams have to travel 45 minutes to an hour to get to games.
Annunziata asked if the games could be played at a later time.
Board President Brad Sparta said the state athletic association controls start times and natural issues such as daylight also dictate when games start as daylight becomes an issue late in the fall and early in the spring.
"It's a trickle-down effect the whole sports thing,” Sparta said. “Everything gets pushed off earlier. They're coming home later and still have to do their homework.”
Other obstacles to changing the start time of the high school is the possible increase in bussing costs. It could also cause child-care difficulty for parents, especially if elementary school times were changed to allow for a different high school start time.
"It's not just a school issue,” Sparta said. “It's a community issue."
No decision is imminent, but officials will check plans to reach out to other districts and talk to Athletic Director Bill Foley how the sports schedule would be affected.
"I do recognize however the significant benefits of later start times for high school aged students," D'Avino said., "This is something that needs further discussion including the voices of additional stakeholders such as parents, students, and teachers."
“There’s a difference between later start times and sleep times and they don’t equate. If you push back start time and hour, that doesn’t mean you’ll get an extra hour of sleep.”
Board of Education member Michael Peek