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Our view: School start times deserve careful consideration

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Is it time to take another look at start times for Rochester Public Schools?

The science long ago indicated that high school-age students would benefit from a later start. The current start time of 7:40 a.m. for Rochester's public high schools is too early, according to sleep specialists, for adolescents to be able to function at their best.

Starting school an hour later would be better for adolescents, the experts say. A school day more in line with their internal clocks would allow them to concentrate better in class.

Well, some observers are sure to say, they should just go to bed earlier. And besides, who among us just bounds out of bed, no matter how early or late the alarm clock rings?

But more and more medical evidence acquired in the past 25 years has pointed to the need to start high schools later in the morning.

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According to the website Start School Later, a shift in the internal rhythms of adolescents makes it difficult for them to get to sleep earlier than 11 p.m. Then they're frequently up at 6 a.m. (or earlier) to get to school. That schedule does not allow for the nine hours of sleep health experts say adolescents need in order to be healthy, active and successful.

In Rochester, a change in the start times for high schools has been talked about in the past, but now officials are taking another serious look at the options.

Any change, though, comes with complications. Cost-wise, if high school start times are pushed back, it could prevent the school district from using the same buses for both secondary and elementary students -- unless elementary times are flipped, which in turn has younger children waiting for buses in the dark.

It is estimated that pushing Rochester high school start times back to 8:45 a.m. would cost an additional $500,000 in transportation costs each year. A less drastic change would push start times to 8 a.m. with minimal, of any, additional transportation costs.

Further complications arise at the end of the day. Extra-curricular activities -- drama rehearsals, school club meetings, sports practices and games -- all would be affected by a school day that ends later in the afternoon. Those aren't deal-breakers, but they will require careful planning.

In other words, while it would appear beneficial to move high school start times to later in the morning, the switch would not necessarily be easy or inexpensive.

For that reason, we support the school district's careful and extensive study of the matter, and the effort to gather public input before making any substantive changes.

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Presented with two options for changing school start times, the Rochester School Board voted to wait. Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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