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Later school start time proposed

Rep. Jill Cooper, R-Export, is pictured during a visit earlier this year to the the Propel Schools' McKeesport campus

The average teenager’s dream of school starting later in the day may come true.

State Rep. Jill Cooper, R-Export and a member of the House Education Committee, is circulating a co-sponsorship memorandum for legislation she is drafting that will require the commonwealth’s secondary schools to start no earlier than 8:15 a.m. starting in the 2026-27 school year. Cooper cites an October 2019 report by the Joint State Government Commission in Pennsylvania, “Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents: A Case for Delaying Secondary School Start Times,” to justify the required later starting time.

“There is a consensus in the medical community that a public health crisis exists in the form of an epidemic of chronic sleep loss and daytime sleepiness in adolescents,” Cooper wrote in her co-sponsorship memorandum. ” The U.S. Department of Health’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health has made sufficient sleep for high school students an objective of their Healthy People 2020 Program, and the National Sleep Foundation notes the consequences of sleep deprivation during teenage years are especially serious.”

Cooper not only wants a later start time to the day, but she wants each school district in Pennsylvania to inform its school community about the health and academic impacts of sleep deprivation on secondary school students and the benefits of a later school start time. Local school boards would also be required to discuss strategies to implement the delayed start time.

Some schools have already made the move. The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Upper Darby High School in Drexel, Pa., starts classes for high school students at 9:45 a.m. rather than the former 7:30 a.m. starting time. For some schools, the pandemic allowed experimentation to try new schedules. Upper Darby initially considered later start times in 2019 before choosing to use distance learning as part of the school day to make the switch for the 2022-23 school year.

At Upper Darby High, the school day technically still begins at 7:30 a.m., with students assigned coursework to be done remotely that ties into their lessons for the day. But they can use the early morning hours as they see fit — they can meet with teachers during office hours, sleep in or finish other homework. Ultimately, the work assigned for the early morning needs to be done, but when is up to students.

The AP reported in May at least nine states are considering legislation related to school start times, up from four the previous year, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. California in 2019 became the first and only state to dictate school start times.

Critics have argued students have less instruction time in the new schedule. The original 80-minute periods have been shortened at Upper Darby. Opponents of changing start times often bring up logistical challenges like shifting bus routes and after school schedules and disrupting family routines built around existing school and work schedules. Orange County Superintendent of Schools Al Mijares worried changing the start time for schools in California in 2019 would disproportionately hurt students from working class families and single-parent households.

“While it may be easy enough for some families with flexible schedules to adjust, in some communities, parents who are working just to make ends meet don’t have the luxury of delaying the start of their workday,” he wrote in a 2019 opinion piece for the nonprofit Cal Matters, according to the Associated Press.

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