Zionsville Community Schools survey considers changing school start times

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By Heather Lusk

Research showing the impact of early school start times on young adults has prompted a survey to Zionsville Community Schools parents and employees asking whether or not to adjust the daily schedule, specifically in the middle schools. The school day in middle school currently begins at 7:40 a.m.

The two cost-neutral scenarios suggested in the survey would require an adjustment to the elementary schedule because they share buses and drivers with middle schools, necessitating a gap in service time.

Dr. Scott Robison shared the preliminary results of the survey with members of the school board on April 11.

“People were very, very interested in our survey,” said Robison, reporting that the district received more than 2,000 responses in the first 12 hours. He estimated up to two-thirds of the students were represented as judged by the number of parents responding.

Seventy-three percent of respondents favored some sort of change to school response time, with the two scenarios split 55/45.

With “The Swap” scenario, the start times for elementary and middle schools would be essentially switched, with elementary school starting at 7:55 and middle school starting at 8:35 a.m. High school times would remain unchanged.

The second “Push” scenario “in essence, would move all start times later” according to the survey. Schools would start 20 to 30 minutes later with elementary school ending at 4 p.m.

Parents were also asked if they would like the schedule to remain unchanged. Currently all five elementary schools end at 3:30 p.m. with high school ending 10 minutes earlier and middle schools ending at 2:40 p.m.

In 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more susceptible to health and mental problems. According to data from the CDC, fewer than one in five middle and high schools begin the day at or after a recommended 8:30 a.m. start time.

“Sleep is important for physical health but more important for mental health and well being,” said Anne Wheaton, PhD, lead author and epidemiologist for the CDC report.

“Adolescents need more sleep than adults,” she said. “One of the first symptoms of adolescence is a delayed shift in sleep cycles.”

The early stages of puberty can impact the ability to fall asleep according to Wheaton, and electronics and evening light exposure also impact sleep cycles.

Robison agreed that he is hearing from middle school parents that their students are “experiencing this very real phenomenon.”

Carrie-Ann Jordan, who has a student in elementary and middle school, applauded the board for considering a change.

“We know that sleep deprivation and anxiety lead to depression and greater risk factors for self-damaging behaviors,” she said. “I know we cannot control what happens in a family, but we can control how we navigate knowing solid scientific information about biological clocks.”

The school board plans to discuss the item at their May meeting. “More information is coming is the best way to leave it,” said Robison.

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