February 25, 2024
Wake-up Call

Photo: iStock

Middle schoolers and high schoolers are starting school later now thanks to a new state law.

Economic Backbone: Pediatrics

Wake-up Call

Florida is mandating later start times for middle schoolers and high schoolers — a shift doctors say will help kids get the sleep they need to learn and thrive.

Michael Fechter | 8/8/2023

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation in May mandating that middle schools start no earlier than 8 a.m. High schools won’t be allowed to start until 8:30 a.m. School districts have until the 2026 academic year to implement the changes, giving parents time to think about breakfast schedules and childcare if they need to leave for work earlier than their kids go to school.

Florida law previously made no mention of school start times.

The changes are part of a national trend pushed by doctors who say allowing students to sleep later can provide academic, behavioral and mental health benefits. Florida House Speaker Paul Renner said those benefits are what motivated him to sponsor the legislation, touting it in March “as a zero-cost way to improve both academic scores and mental well-being.”

The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed Renner’s bill. saying that “by recognizing the critical importance of sufficient sleep for academic success, health and safety, he is taking significant steps towards improving the lives of our children and adolescents.”

The expectation is that better rested students will be more attentive and engaged, but research on the subject is inconsistent. Some studies have shown modest academic improvement resulting from later start times, while others demonstrated none.

It could take time to see the impact, says Kannan Ramar, chief patient safety officer for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). “There will not be an immediate increase in academic performance of students,” he says, and results will vary depending on socioeconomic status, family dynamics and school environment.

But allowing everyone from kindergartners to high school seniors to get more zzz’s isn’t just about boosting academic performance. Some studies show more sleep can lead to “improved mental health, reduced risk-taking behaviors, enhanced overall well-being and a decrease in car accidents among teenage drivers.”

A 2020 study published by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found a significant drop in teen driving accidents due to later school start times. Other evidence points to reductions in child depression, anxiety and overall stress.

In younger children, Ramar says, longer, better sleep improves cognitive and language skills, behavior and emotional control, and overall physical health.

Nearly half of all Florida high schools start before 7:30 a.m. A third of elementary schools start at 8 a.m. or earlier, the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability reported in February. But the other districts already meet the legislation’s scheduling guidelines.

The biggest argument against pushing back the opening bell involved childcare and student supervision, along with concerns about crimping afterschool activities. 

Tags: Healthcare, Pediatrics, Feature

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