American children do not get enough sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Teenagers in particular need sleep—lots of it, according to the medical research. The problem is their bodies don’t always want to hit the sack early, making it difficult to rise in the morning.
But most high schools, including all but one in the , start earlier than 8 a.m., making it difficult for teenagers to get the full allotment of sleep that's recommended for their age group.
That may be changing if a new national petition gets enough signatures to make lawmakers pay attention to the issue. Spearheaded by Terra Snider, a medical writer and mom of teenagers, the petition needs 1,000 signatures to be delivered to legislators in Washington, D.C.; currently there are 953, according to Snider. So far, many Eastsiders have signed the petition, including a hanful from Redmond.
Snider said she began her campaign for a later start time in her home county in Maryland more than a decade ago, with little luck.
“I eventually gave up my personal battle as I came to understand that every time the issue is raised locally, the result is raging controversy—and, almost inevitably, politics, money, and myth win out over children's best interests,” Snider wrote in an email to Woodinville Patch. She’s now taken the issue onto the Internet in the hopes that it will gain national attention.
Many school districts, including Lake Washington, do not have enough buses or bus drivers to accommodate elementary, middle and high schools starting at the same time. District spokeswoman Kathryn Reith said any changes to the current bus system would have to factor in geography, population densities and length of student trips—along with added financial cost.
“It’s a conundrum," Reith said. "There’s no simple, easy, perfect answer.”
But that's not to say the district hasn't considered the possibility. Eight or nine years ago, the district surveyed high school students to see if they would prefer a change to school start times, Reith said.
The results were mixed, with some wanting to start earlier, others wanting to start at the same time, and others requesting a later start time.
"Obviously if the students don’t want it, then that’s a problem," Reith said.
Snider acknowledges that there are obstacles and possible upfront costs to the later start time.
“None of that justifies sending children to school at times that are now known to be counterproductive and dangerous (again, see the Brookings study),” Snider wrote. “One of the reasons the petition asks for a bare minimum of 8 a.m., which is still too early for older kids, is to avoid having to send little kids to school in the dark (switching elementary and high school start times is often proposed as the no-cost way to send high school kids to school later). Our contention is that once a community accepts that their start times are dangerous and counterproductive, they can and will find ways to resolve this issue, even if it means sacrificing something else.”
To read or sign the petition, click here. Here is the breakdown, as of Nov. 30, of which Eastside communities are represented on the petition:
Mill Creek: 4
Thrasher's Corner: 3
Mercer Island: 1