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School Start Times Need to Change

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By BROOKE CHABOT  |   Truckee

Throughout the winter you may have seen children, from adolescents to teens, stand-ing out on street corners in the cold, dark early morning hours waiting for their school bus to bring them to school. For me, it is a sight that stirs feelings of concern for their safety and well-being.   

This year, my daughter has joined their ranks, waking long before the sun to get ready for school. She is 11 years old and up at 6 a.m. to prepare for her day. Since she start-ed this new schedule I have been noticing the effects of mounting hours of missed sleep. As the academic pressure from school increases I worry about how she will cope while struggling with too little sleep, and I wonder how this fatigue will impact her emotional and physical health in the long run. 

Too-early school start times are a national public health concern with consequences impacting children, families, and the community at large. Besides forcing many chil-dren to walk and drive to school in pre-dawn darkness, these hours are creating a generation deprived of the sleep that growing brains and bodies require.

Many schools in the Truckee Tahoe Unified School District start too early, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The academy recommends schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., but in our district we have six schools that start earlier, most around 7:30 a.m. 

Getting enough sleep is a biological necessity. It’s as important to good health as eating well and exercising.

“Adolescents and teenagers are wired to have a delayed sleep phase schedule, making them more likely to stay up late and sleep later in the morning,” said Jocelyn Kreiss, a local psychiatrist who also parents an incoming Alder Creek Middle School student. “This may be because adolescents and teens have lower nocturnal levels of melatonin, an important hormone for regulating circadian rhythms.  Without sufficient sleep, adolescents and teens are at risk for depression, obesity, and impaired concentration.” 

One local parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells it this way: “The start of sixth grade was dramatic. A two-hour earlier start time occurred right when I could see that she needed more sleep in the morning. But instead her sleep is now fragmented and she often falls back asleep again in the car during our winter commute. I love our school and am committed to getting her there on time, but it is a challenge witnessing her fatigue and distraction due to such an early day. I also believe it takes a toll on her performance in the morning during class. I know middle school is a time when many students experience mood changes and irritability, but healthy sleep is something that can show dramatic and positive changes right away.”

There is great national support for making a change to later start times. Around 400 districts in the country have recently shifted their schedules based on the recommendations of the AAP. In California there is a bill, introduced by State Senator Anthony Portantino, that would require a minimum 8:30 a.m. start time for all California public middle and high schools. This bill will be revisited next year. 

We all want our children to be healthy, vibrant kids who have every opportunity to succeed. Implementing later school start times as recommended is a practical and necessary change that would bring immediate benefits to the students in this district. 

To learn more, please visit our website at

~ Brooke Chabot lives and loves in Truckee with her family. She is a musician and music teacher.

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February 14, 2019