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Salt Lake City School District Hoping Delayed School Start Times Will Mean More Sleep, Better Outcomes For Students

A photo of blurred students in the classroom with one asleep girl and in focus.
The Salt Lake City school board voted to move the high school start time to 8:45 a.m. and extend the day to 3 p.m.

For years, a growing body of research has shown that students are healthier and do better in school if they get more sleep. Forcing them to wake up early for school — before 8:30 a.m. — can lead to sleep deprivation and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

This week, the Salt Lake City school board voted to test the theory, and has pushed the start of high school classes from 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. times and extended the day to 3 p.m.

The board also decided to move all middle schools to an 8 a.m. start time, while elementary schools have the choice between starting at 8 a.m. or 8:45 a.m. The changes will begin next fall.

District officials have been considering delaying start times for over a year, which research has found is most beneficial to students who’ve reached puberty. When that happens, their biological clock changes, and they tend to fall asleep later than younger kids and adults, according to a researcher who studied later start times in Seattle.

That study found that students who were able to start school later, got nearly an hour more sleep each night. They also showed improvements in grades and didn’t miss as much class.

Beyond the health and academic benefits, Salt Lake’s outgoing superintendent Larry Madden said Tuesday the new start times will make it easier to bus students to and from school. When schools begin their day is currently a mixed bag, ranging from 7:45 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. With schools on one of two start times next year, it will require fewer bus drivers to manage the varying schedules.

The district is in the minority both in the state and around the country implementing later start times. In Utah, like the rest of the country, most schools start around or before 8 a.m.

The idea to start the school day later has gotten more traction in recent years though. The state passed a resolution last year asking school districts to consider later start times and look at ways to implement the change.

Salt Lake board members said they will try to evaluate the impacts of the change, though did not decide yet how that would be done.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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