Lower Merion School Board considers moving start times back, allowing students to get more sleep

By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Lower Merion School Board will meet Thursday night to discuss potentially pushing school start times back — a transition the district anticipates examining in many more meetings to come.

The recommendation for a later start to the school day is based on studies that show sleep cycles shift during the teenage years, and adolescents fall asleep later and wake up later. 

About 20 school districts are having the same conversation, and a handful have already made the change.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, and other groups recommend high school should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

The Radnor Township School District pushed its start time back to 8:30 a.m. at the beginning of this school year.

“We’re getting positive feedback from many of our high school students who are appreciative of the extra hour or so of sleep,” noted district spokesman Michael Petitti.

While that’s anecdotal, Petitti said they’re asking for more input from parents and students, which they can send to sleep@rtsd.org. The district will also look at other factors, like sick days or nurse’s office visits.

A handful of other school districts, like Tredyffrin/Easttown, Phoenixville and Unionville-Chadds Ford, pushed their start times back to 8 a.m.

The Unionville-Chadds Ford School District made the switch in the 2017-18 school year. Across the two years of data collected, School Board President Jeff Hellrung said it has all been generally positive.

“The kids feel better. They’re more alert, so just across the whole range they learn better, their immune systems are stronger, their mental health is stronger, their resilience is stronger,” he said.

Hellrung said they're now discussing moving from 8 a.m. to the recommended 8:30 a.m.

But he and Petitti acknowledged every district faces different challenges when it comes to changing start and end times, including after-school activities, jobs, and transportation to private schools. The Lower Merion School District, for example, provides transportation for about 10,000 students to 120 different schools.

The Lower Merion School District is holding several community listening sessions on the topic in the coming months. It also wants input from parents and community members, which can be emailed to sleep@lmsd.org.

The school board will consider the feedback prior to voting in the spring. If approved, the new start time would begin in September 2020.