School Committee Start Time Public Forum

School Committee seeks public input to guide action on superintendent’s school start time recommendation


It seems every day the news has another headline about sleep, the reasons it’s important, and the gap between what we need and what we are getting.  Sleep deprivation among our youth is recognized as a national health crisis, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that high schools and middle schools adjust their start times to 8:30 am or later as an effective countermeasure.  Across the state and the nation, towns are re-evaluating their school hours, and among our peers, most have either recently adjusted their hours, or are planning to do so.  Acknowledging the opposing pulls of the recommendations of medical professionals and the complexities of and resistance to change, the School Committee has been looking over the last couple of years at whether Wayland should change its school start times.


It is easy to downplay the need for sleep, or to assert that it’s up to parents (and of course, the students themselves) to make sure students get adequate sleep, but the research, including all that’s about human biology, shows that our current start time makes getting adequate sleep virtually impossible for the vast majority of our high school students (and to a somewhat lesser,  but still concerning extent, the majority of our middle school students).  Rather than summarizing the research here, we have developed an area of our website dedicated to summarizing the research and providing source material.  We urge you to get familiar with it.  [The page is online here]


We surveyed the community and learned that our high school students are getting an average of 6.5 hours of sleep per night, a typical result for schools across the nation. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 8.5-9.5 hours. Many students and their parents think they are functioning just fine with this level of sleep deprivation, but the science tells us they are not: not only does sleep loss affect school performance, but it also affects physical and mental health.  The research on this is extensive: when start times are adjusted, students actually do get more sleep, and the benefits achieved are significant - virtually every performance metric you could imagine for assessing student health gets better as students get more sleep.


We also learned that while the community is supportive of addressing adolescent sleep deficiencies, there are fears and concerns about addressing start times. Examples among them: whether there would be adequate childcare options for parents to manage their work schedules, whether or how sports and activities would be affected, whether there would be significant costs to making a change. In addition, we know that delaying middle school and high school start times also impacts elementary start times and as a district, we must balance the needs of all.  


Recognizing the complexities of the issues, we tasked the superintendent with developing a recommendation.  Starting in the spring, and continuing over the summer and into the fall, Superintendent Dr. Stein and then Dr. Unobskey took on this task.  They reviewed the research, talked with other superintendents, gathered a diverse set of community stakeholders including parents (working and stay-at-home, Wayland- and Boston-based), high school students, teachers and administrators at all school levels, and weighed pros and cons of a variety of options.  With all that information in hand, Dr. Unobskey ultimately issued a recommendation that Wayland Schools adjust their start times to begin to address the problem. [An overview of his recommendation is online here, with his detailed report online here.]


It’s important that you know, and we recognize, that changing start times is not a complete solution to this problem.  We are looking at this because we want to provide our children with an environment in which is it possible to get enough sleep.  But ensuring that it actually happens is a multi-faceted problem (involving choices about, for example, activities, jobs, course workload and homework) that is also complex, and will require education and commitment from all of us.


The School Committee is now evaluating Dr. Unobskey’s recommendation.  In summary, the recommendation is to move our start times later by 30 minutes for high school and middle school (20 minutes in the 2018/19 school year and another 10 minutes in the following school year - a phased plan that seeks to ensure we avoid transportation problems) and later by 15 minutes for elementary school.  We encourage you to read the full document, as it explains the process undertaken to develop it, including the options considered and discarded.  Dr. Unobskey has asked the School Committee to decide how we want to proceed by January 2018 so the community has time to plan and adjust should we opt to implement his recommendation.  To get to where we can make an informed decision, we will debate and discuss among ourselves, and we also seek input from the community.  We urge residents to first review the materials on our start time webpage.  It is important stakeholders understand why we consider this issue so critical.  Then we want to hear from you -- we want to hear what you like and what concerns you about this proposal.  


We know in the end that we cannot please everyone - certainly some residents will want us to make larger or different changes in start times, and others will wish we would leave things alone.  In the end, we will be guided by what we believe is in the best interest of our students.


We welcome your feedback.  You can contact Dr. Unobskey at schoolstarttime@wayland.k12.ma.us.  We will be holding a public forum on November 20 in the Large Hearing Room at Town Building where we will hear from sleep expert Dr. Judith Owens, followed by a question and answer period and discussion with the public.  We hope you can join us.