StateImpact Florida
4:02 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

Why Miami-Dade Might Start Some High School Classes Later In The Morning

New research provides some support for Florida school leaders who want high schools to start later.
Credit Diana Schnuth / Flickr

Blame science – and not your teenager – if they’re slow starters in the morning.

Teenagers just can't get eight hours of sleep if high schools starts much before 8 a.m.

University of Minnesota researcher Kyla Wahlstrom said that's because adolescents go through something called the sleep phase shift.

"Teenagers are basically unable to fall asleep on a regular basis every night,"Wahlstrom said, "say, before 10:45 or 11. It’s just a biologic almost impossibility.”

It's why Wahlstrom and others said high schools should start later to allow students to get eight hours of sleep. She studied 9,000 high school students in three states.

The debate about when high school classes should start has gained steam across the state. Last year, state Rep. Matt Gaetz filed a bill which would prevent classes from starting before 8 a.m. Gaetz withdrew his bill, but lawmakers have asked a state agency to study the idea.

New research shows teenagers have a tough time getting enough sleep if high schools start before 8 a.m.

Districts around the state are also considering the idea. Miami-Dade school leaders have read Wahlstrom's research and could decide this week whether to launch a pilot program for later high school starting times.

Central Florida school districts have differing opinions on the merits of earlier and later start times.

St. Johns County schools moved high school start times to 9:15 in 2006 and Superintendent Joe Joyner said he doesn't want to return to the previous schedule.

Wahlstrom said her research showed the benefits are significant: Better test scores; better grades in first and third periods; reduced cigarette, drug and alcohol use; and fewer automobile accidents at schools starting after 8:35.

But changing school schedules is a serious disruption. If high school students start later, that might mean elementary and middle school students start earlier. Parents might have to upend schedules to get students to school on time. Bus schedules have to be overhauled.

"The decision to adjust a school start time to a later time -- especially for high schools -- is really a community decision," said Wahlstrom, a former school administrator.

Opponents of the schedule change usually cite after school activities and the cost of rearranging transportation as reasons against making the switch. But Wahlstrom found no evidence that money should be a factor.

"The districts that have made these decisions across the United States," she said, "were able to make these changes at no cost.