Smithtown high school students may soon be collectively rejoicing everywhere.
A committee assembled in 2015 to examine the pros and cons of moving back the start of the school day for ninth- through 12th-grade students provided an update to the board of education, district administration and the community on their findings at a meeting Tuesday.
The School Start Times Steering Committee is comprised of district administrators, parents, students and teachers. District Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Jennifer Bradshaw led the discussion Tuesday. Bradshaw said the committee watched a New York State School Boards Association webinar about the Glen Falls City School District’s shift to a later start time a few years ago and the drastically positive impacts it has had on student behavior. They also consulted with the district’s athletic director, guidance counselors, parents and principals from other schools who have made the change for their input on the impact of a later start time.
“We have an obligation to look at this for our students,” Bradshaw said. Currently Smithtown’s high schools start first period at 7:20 a.m. “Physiologically, biologically they’re not ready to learn.”
Bradshaw quoted a recent press release from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicated two out of three high school students in the United States don’t get enough sleep.
Joanne Romanelli, a parent in the district who is on the start time committee and also works as a certified holistic health and wellness coach addressed the board during Tuesday’s meeting. She said that forcing teens to wake up as early as 6 a.m. creates a vicious cycle of stress, out-of-whack hormones and distorted sleeping patterns because their bodies cannot physically fall asleep before about 11:30 p.m.
“If you’re getting up earlier you’re feeling stress, you’re feeling tired, you’re not doing so well in school, you might be depressed or you have low serotonin,” Romanelli said. “There is more depression so now you’re feeling more stress. You’re having raised cortisol throughout the day. Raised cortisol makes you feel energized, it doesn’t make you feel sleepy. So now, you can’t go to sleep. So it causes more stress. It just cycles … A later start time is what’s best and it’s healthier for the students.”
School board members Louis Liguori and Joanne McEnroy said they’d like to see these updates fast-tracked from suggestions to a proposal and eventually a change because they’ve seen firsthand how difficult getting their teenagers out of bed really is.
“We pretty much have covered the gamut on all levels of educating children right down to nutritional changes that we have going on and [on a county and state level they’re] just not talking about, on a higher level, sleep deprivation or sleep patterns of our students,” Liguori said. “Who are we catering to? We’re not catering to the students at all by getting them up at 6 [a.m.].”
Some issues with pushing back the start of the high school day would include transportation, co-curricular athletics start times and changes to before and after care for elementary students if their times were affected.
Board member Jeremy Thode expressed concerns that if the high school day started later, kids would simply go to bed later and the problem would be shifted backward rather than alleviated.
“My concern as a parent and from an educational point of view is that we have some fool’s gold here in thinking they’re going to stay going to bed at 11 [p.m.] and now waking up at 9 [a.m.] or get up at 8 [a.m.], now they can stay up until 12 [a.m.], because kids are kids,” Thode said. “In an ideal world I think we’re talking about the right subject but there are some unintended consequences.”
Thode suggested that a next step could be to examine lateness patterns and grades for first and second period classes compared to the rest of the day for Smithtown high school students.
Bradshaw added she has been in contact with an organization called Start School Later Long Island, NY and that the best course of action may be for this to become a county or statewide discussion going forward. More discussion is likely to occur until the budget is adopted for the 2017-18 school year next spring.