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After a year of research, outreach and surveys, the Anacortes School Board Thursday unanimously approved later school start times for students in middle and high school.

Beginning with the upcoming 2019-2020 school year, students at AMS will start school at 8 a.m. and students at AHS and Cap Sante will start at 8:05. Most elementary start times remain the same, except Fidalgo Elementary, which will shift to a 9 a.m. start time.

Five years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle and high school start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., declaring chronic sleep loss among teens one of the most “easily fixable” public health issues facing Americans. One year later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the same recommendation.

The APA recommends secondary schools start later to better align with teenage brain patterns. Studies show that the biological “waking” clock shifts during preteen years resulting in later tiredness (11:00 p.m.) and therefore later “awake” time in the morning. A recent University of Washington study found that a one-hour later start in Seattle schools led to increased sleep, better attendance and improved grades.

A parent group petitioned the district in 2017 to consider the shift to a later start for secondary schools. The district conducted a feasibility study, held outreach meetings, surveyed parents, staff, and students and reviewed operational logistics in considering the shift to a later start. An initial survey showed more than 70 percent of respondents favored the change.

After careful consideration, the district determined that it could make a 30-minute shift in start times work, while remaining cost neutral. A follow-up survey showed 72 percent in favor of a 30-minute shift.

A news release from the school district reports that research suggests that shifting schedules later -- even if it leads to a start time earlier than 8:30 a.m. -- benefits students:

  • University of California neuroscientist Matthew Walker, a national sleep expert, responded to a district inquiry by noting that even 30 minutes of extra “sleep opportunity” leads to positive results for teens
  • A Singapore study of a 45-minute later start found decreased anxiety and depression among students
  • Survey results in Unionville-Chadds Ford School, a Pennsylvania district that implemented a 25-minute delay to 8 a.m., found most secondary students were going to bed at the same time, but gaining – on average – 15 to 30 minutes of sleep. Students reported feeling more alert and less sleepy during class.

“With every decision we make, we ask ‘What is best for kids?’,” said board president Bobbilyn Hogge. “This was a very difficult decision, but ultimately we believe it is what’s best for our students.”

In discussing the issue, the board noted the mental health impacts of increased sleep.

“We’re talking a lot about depression and anxiety among our teens,” said board vice president Erin Rieger, a nurse practitioner. “Sleep matters, and anything we can do to increase the amount of sleep is a win for our students.”

The district recently heard concerns from its transportation staff that the later start would mean a reduction in hours for bus drivers. The district plans to work with drivers to alleviate losses through the possibility of other work assignments. ASD will also work with families at Fidalgo to provide before-school options.

Superintendent Mark Wenzel said the district is committed to studying the impacts as we move forward.

“We carefully weighed all options with this proposal,” said Superintendent Wenzel. “I believe this is the right move to make for our students, and I expect to see positive outcomes as we move forward.”

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