The Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District is considering later start times at all six of its schools amid an increasing amount of research highlighting the potential benefits of such a change.
According to Superintendent John DeTommaso, the idea was raised at a Board of Education meeting several months ago, and officials have been examining the data.
“I want people to start to wrapping their heads around the idea,” said DeTommaso, adding that the research he has seen persuaded him to consider such an initiative. He specifically cited research conducted by the American Medical Association and the National Sleep Foundation as two examples of studies that found merit in later start times.
In June 2016, the AMA argued that middle and high schools should start classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m., because “puberty is accompanied by a biological delay or shift in circadian rhythm contributing to later bedtimes and wake times among teens.” Waking up early for school, in other words, can wreak havoc with a teenager’s biological clock.
The National Sleep Foundation explored this finding in depth, concluding that with teenagers juggling not only schoolwork but extracurricular activities, jobs, family obligations and busy social lives, most couldn’t get enough sleep even if they tried.
“When it is time to wake up for school, the adolescent’s body says it is still the middle of the night, and he or she has had too little sleep to feel rested and alert,” the foundation’s study stated.
The topic has sparked enough interest to spawn a nationwide organization called Start School Later Inc. In late April its members held a conference of scientists, health experts and educators in Washington, D.C., to rally support for the cause.
The Herald conducted an unscientific poll on the Bellmore Moms Facebook page, asking whether participants supported later school start times and why. The responses were as follows:
• 73 percent checked the statement, “I agree that school times should start later because of the effect of sleep deprivation on my child.”
• 13 percent chose, “I disagree because it would interfere with extracurricular activities and athletics.”
• 11 percent checked, “I disagree because school started early for us and we turned out fine.”
• One respondent wrote, “I disagree. If your kid goes to bed at a decent hour, 7:30 is not too early” — and 3 percent agreed.
DeTommaso said that the proposal to change start times has been put to staff members in all six buildings. He added, “I think they’re percolating on the idea.”
The administration is also looking into the impact such a change would have on the cost of transportation. And DeTommaso said that the district must take into consideration the possible effects a districtwide rescheduling might have on nearby elementary schools.
“I’m really glad the district is at the forefront of this change,” said Maritza Suarez Liriano, 49, of Bellmore. Suarez Liriano, a teacher in the Valley Stream High School District for past 30 years, is also a parent of two former district students, one at Calhoun High School and one at Kennedy. She said that starting school later has been a topic of discussion among district parents since her children started high school.
According to Suarez Liriano, parents have been reluctant to speak up because of later start times’ potential toll on extracurricular activities and sports. “I understand that [extracurriculars] are extremely important, but it’s more important to get our kids in school, rested, focused and ready to learn,” she said.
DeTommaso said that the district’s next step is to consider possible ways to balance an 8:30 start time with those after-school activities. “It’s worth the exploration,” he said. “It’s worth the discussion, without question.”