• Parents oppose so-called 'flip' of elementary, high school start times

    By: Heather Hegedus

    Updated:

    The issue of school start times is causing a heated and emotional debate in many Massachusetts communities. 

    Elementary school students in Dover and Sherborn currently catch the bus between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. to get them to school by 8:35 a.m. Starting next fall, buses will pick up some elementary school children as early as 6:50 a.m. for a 7:50 a.m. start time. 

    High school students would start later at 8:35 a.m.

    "There's been quite a lot of research done to show the benefit to starting high school and middle school students later, but there's been a real paucity of data on the impact on elementary school students," said Dover parent Dan Cahan. 

    The move to push the high school start time back and the elementary time up was passed in April. The decision was made in part because of a 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that high school students going through puberty need more sleep. 

    Dover-Sherborn Superintendent Andrew Keough tells me it was a "thoughtful and inclusive process... and we think it is the right decision for the health and safety of our students."

    Dover-Sherborn is not alone. 

    Although the state is not keeping track, we counted at least 22 school districts from Andover to Holliston that are considering or have already pushed back high school start times and pushed up elementary start times. 

    The change just went into effect in Wayland this September and parents say their elementary kids are suffering. 

    "For the kids who are doing after care not only are they getting the hour of sleep lost but their day is actually an hour longer," said Wayland parent John Grabill.

    >> More: School Start Later — a national organization dedicated to the topic

    Still, another Wayland parent, Kate Walsh, a pediatrician, feels her middle and high schoolers are happier.

    "What happens is because the kids are falling asleep later in adolescence, they need a later start time. The younger kids fall asleep earlier and quicker. They need an earlier start time," said Walsh. 

    Wayland superintendent Arthur Unobskey says overall, he feels the switch has been a success. 

    "You have to go in with your eyes wide open. There's going to be a lot of upset people because while the science is pretty clear about the impact."

    >> More: Earlier school start times as a risk factor for poor school performance: Univ. of Kentucky researchers

    Dover-Sherborn parents have now created a petition asking the district for a schedule that won't require any students to start before 8:20 in the morning. They have 200 signatures.

    >> Related: Massachusetts towns/cities that changed or have considered changing start times: 

    • Acton-Boxborough
    • Andover
    • Holliston
    • Newburyport
    • Grafton 
    • Ashland
    • Burlington
    • Concord-Carlisle 
    • Dover-Sherborn 
    • Hanover
    • Lexington
    • Lincoln-Sudbury
    • Melrose
    • Sharon
    • Stoneham
    • Watertown
    • Winchester
    • Weston
    • Arlington
    • Belmont
    • Newton
    • Wayland

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