High school start and finish times can be a controversial topic! A quick search of school start and finish times in Queensland, Australia, my home ground, sees a range of start times generally between 8.20-9.00am, and a range of finish times generally between 2.30-3.30pm.
High school start and finish times can be controversial indeed if you have more than one child in more than one school. I know that as a parent that I spent a number of years juggling kids and different start and finish times, and when schools suggest changing these times a media furore can erupt. Such was the case when, for various reasons, my son’s high school moved the finishing time from 3.00pm to 2.30pm (thus the start time moved also), resulting in the adjoining primary school moving their students’ finishing time from 3.00pm to 2.40pm.
So, if you are not a parent juggling kids with different school start and finish times, why are school start and finish times so interesting? Because there appears to be a mounting body of evidence that these times have considerable implications for injury prevention.
The November edition of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine contains an article by Vorona, Szklo-Coxe, Lamichhane, Ware, McNallen, and Leszczyszyn in which the road crash rates for teens attending early-start schools were compared to teens attending later-start schools in Virginia, US. Teens in early-start counties had a significantly higher crash rate, with crash peaks coinciding as expected with the earlier times that students commute to and from school. It is noteworthy that adult crash rates and traffic congestion did not differ between the counties with an early start and the counties with the late start, further validating the importance of the research findings.
I also came across a webpage for a “non-profit organization dedicated to healthy, safe, equitable school hours“, which summarises the experiences of 43 US states that have moved their start times from early starts (e.g., 7.30am) to later starts (e.g., 8.30am), including the impact upon their students. I must say that as a parent of teens, who often feels like she needs to get a hose to spray water on them so that they actually drag themselves out of bed in the morning, I found such early start times shocking.
We know adolescents experience different sleep needs than children and adults, and that sleep deficits can have a pervasive impact psychologically, physiologically, and – I would argue – socially. The dialogue regarding sleep times needs to consider this pervasive impact if we are to protect some of our most vulnerable community members.