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Should Schools Consider Later Start Times?

Sleeping Boy
A boy rests during a tennis match. (credit: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) - Better test scores, better attendance and fewer students showing up late to class -- it could all happen, if high schools would just make one change. Some parents and experts believe that school start times should be pushed back later.

Karen McCaskill struggles each morning to wake up her two teenage boys. Classes at their Arlington high school begin at 7:35 a.m. but they have to be awake for a 6:00 a.m. cross country practice. "They do really well at the beginning of the year," said McCaskill, "and then they will start to... you see the wear and tear."

At least four DFW area school districts -- Arlington, Grand Prairie, Kennedale and Mansfield -- have start times of 7:35 a.m. or earlier.

Sleep experts say that teens are hard-wired to fall asleep later. So, if school starts early, those kids are guaranteed to be sleep deprived. "To function optimally, teens need nine hours and fifteen minutes of sleep every night," stated Dr. William David Brown from Children's Medical Center. "If you have to get up at 5:00 a.m. to get your nine hours... that's what, 8 o'clock bedtime? It's not going to happen."

That has led some educators, including education secretary Arne Duncan, to call for later school start times.

"If you look at the schools that do it," explained Dr. Brown, "attendance is way up, tardiness goes way down, depression goes way down and scores, grades increase."

Some parents in Arlington have been petitioning for later school start times. The Arlington Independent School District is considering taking action, but the move is not so simple. "We would have to change, probably, all three levels of schools, and so that would be a change for the whole district," said school district spokeswoman Leslie Johnston. "We will certainly look into it, but it would be a big change."

The McCaskill family would welcome any change. Reed McCaskill said that his fellow students often crash in the middle of class. "Definitely, a bunch, all the time," he said. "I look around and kids are out, out, out, out, out... everywhere." That may be the most persuasive argument to change start times.

Dr. Brown said that the research is frightening. "Seventy-one percent said they were excessively sleepy during the school day," he said. "But the scary number from the study was that 17 percent had said they had already fallen asleep at least once while driving. If changing school start times by an hour saves one single life, don't you think it's worth it?"

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