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Pennsylvania school district proposes moving back start times to improve students’ health

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(PITTSBURGH, Penn.) — A school district in Pennsylvania is proposing starting classes later in the morning to improve the physical health and mental well-being of students.

Upper St. Clair School District — a suburb of Pittsburgh — would change the start times of its high schools, elementary schools and middle schools, if the plan is approved by the school board, Superintendent Dr. John Rozzo told ABC News.

Currently, high school students in the district begin classes at 7:30 a.m. ET. However, under the new start time, they would begin at 8:00 a.m. ET.

Because of transportation — such as school buses — being pushed back for older kids, elementary and middle school students would also get later start times with the former now beginning at 8:35 a.m. ET and the latter at 8:55 a.m. ET.

Rozzo said that the district had been studying the benefits of moving back school start times since the early 1990s, but it never got off the ground. However, it was revisited in 2015 as part of the district’s five-year plan.

“One of the focal points of that 2015 strategic plan was the high school experience and examining start time for students and the impact it had on academics, on their health, their mental health and behavioral health and physical health,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed plans but now “we finally feel confident that we had a point making the recommendation and hopefully, if approved, would go into effect in August,” Rozzo added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have both advocated for later start times for students.

It is currently recommended that teenagers between ages 13 to 18 get between eight and 10 hours of regular sleep every night.

Research has shown this helps reduce the risk of being overweight, suffering from symptoms of depression, poor academic performance in school and engaging in risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking and drug use.

“This is not something that’s driven by our opinions or our personal preferences, or even administrative conveyance,” Rozzo said. “It’s driven by what is well documented in the research literature, and that’s that later starts have a significant amount of benefits for students, particularly adolescents and teens.”

Of course, the district is not the first in the country to introduce such a measure.

In 2019, California became the first state to mandate that high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Bills have been introduced asking for similar start times, including in New Jersey and in Tennessee.

For the Upper St. Clair School District, the recommendation for the change in start times will be presented at a May school board meeting, where there will be a vote for approval.

Rozzo said the recommendation has been met with overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, staff and parents alike and — although recognizing every district has specific needs — he hopes other administrators consider changing starting times.

“I would hope that as more districts like ours make this change and that others see the importance and the need to also do it,” he said. “I fully recognize though everyone has their own unique challenges specific to their communities, specific to their districts…I think if it were easy, a lot more people would have done it already.”

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