Start from scratch and pick a school start time that gives a teenager the best shot at success. Just for a minute, forget all about bus schedules, after-school jobs, team practice, doctors’ appointments, convenience or habit. Every one of those things is secondary to the true purpose of school: education. So, what is that time? The science is clear: 8:30 a.m. at the earliest.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says so. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says so. And so does state Rep. John Paul Temple, a Wildwood Republican who is sponsoring House Bill 733. Under his plan, high schools could start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., middle schools no sooner than 8 a.m. That would be a radical change at a lot of schools, and even many students would protest. But trust the science.
Teenagers need eight to 10 hours of sleep, and their circadian rhythms are shifting in the bubbling stew of adolescent hormones. It’s no revelation to parents of teens that their kids stay up later and want to get up later. Forcing them to be in the classroom when their bodies literally are not ready is just a bad idea. And yet so many high schools do just that. It makes no sense.
High schools that moved their start times later in the morning have seen their students get more sleep and better grades. In one study on later start times, Seattle high school students slept an extra half-hour. They went to bed at the same time (when their biological clock made them tired) but awakened later (because the new rules let them). “To ask a teen to be up and alert at 7:30 a.m. is like asking an adult to be active and alert at 5:30 a.m.,” said one of the researchers who studied the effects.
A different researcher, a psychology professor who was the mother of two teens herself, studied all the research she could find, gathering as much data as she could and gleaning it for trends. Among the many findings she published in Pediatrics last year: “Specifically, we found that kids sleep longer, and we also found that their negative mood was lower.” Who wouldn’t support an idea that would reduce the moodiness quotient of a teen?
The changes in Rep. Temple’s bill would not take effect until July 2026, giving schools and families plenty of time to prepare. Hillsborough County moved its high school start times to 8:30 a.m. in 2017, citing some of the studies showing the problems with teens’ sleep deprivation. So it can be done. But in Pinellas County, high schools still start classes no later than 7:25 a.m., and in Pasco, a majority of public high schools start at 7:16 a.m. or earlier.
Should the state be telling local school districts what to do? In a climate where the state is banning schools from teaching some concepts and intimidating them to steer clear of controversy, it’s easy to distrust dictates from Tallahassee. But overreaching in one area doesn’t mean the state lacks legitimate interests in another. Instead of fighting over whether students should be “woke,” how about agreeing on how to make sure students are awake — and alert — for first period? Trusting the science about the earliest appropriate school start times for teenagers, then setting rules to make it happen, makes sense. Those who argue against it are not fighting with the state. They are arguing with the science. Everything else is just an excuse.
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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.