Beaufort County Schools to shift schools’ 2016-17 bell times

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The Beaufort County Board of Education voted this week to shift district schools’ opening bell times beginning with the 2016-17 school year in order to provide later start times at middle and high schools.

Scientific studies show that sleep-deprived adolescents often suffer physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and declines in academic performance.  Researchers say that because of hormonal changes that occur in adolescence, teens’ bodies are not ready to go to sleep earlier at night.

With the exception of Hilton Head Island schools, the district’s elementary schools will begin classes about 8 a.m. and high schools will begin classes about 9 a.m.  Hilton Head Island High School moved its starting time from 7:45 to 8:30 a.m. in a pilot initiative that began two years ago, and the adjacent elementary and middle schools scheduled their start times around the high school.

“We’re adjusting our schedules as adults in order to do what’s best for children,” said Superintendent Jeff Moss.  “Teens are being asked to focus and learn, and in some cases get in a car and drive to school, at a time when their brains are having difficulty staying awake.”

Hilton Head Island High’s delayed start times have seen positive results.

“We’re seeing fewer students late to school, fewer disciplinary referrals and more students on the Honor Roll,” said Hilton Head Island High Principal Amanda O’Nan.  “I can’t imagine going back.”

O’Nan said that feedback from students and parents has been overwhelmingly in favor of the change.  “The kids say they’re more awake and more alert in class.  Their initial reaction was how nice it was for the sun to be up as they made their way to school.  Our parents are on board, too.”

In an official policy statement published in 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later.

“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common – and easily fixable – public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, lead author of the AAP policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents.”

“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering from depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” Owens said.  “Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

Other studies have documented that the average American adolescent is sleep-deprived. Among those studies was a National Sleep Foundation poll that found 59 percent of students in Grades 6-8 and 87 percent of high school students were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.

Individual Beaufort County schools will determine their precise daily schedules later this spring and communicate those schedules to parents.  Elementary schools would begin classes about 8 a.m. and end about 3 p.m.  High schools would begin classes about 9 a.m. and end about 4 p.m.

Moss said the district would look at offering expanded adult supervision at schools to accommodate parents whose work schedules affect their ability to drop off or pick up students at the new times.

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