Thames Valley District school board to test later start-times for high schools

By Hank Daniszewski, The London Free Press



It’s not about lazy teens sleeping in.

The Thames Valley District school board, Southwestern Ontario’s largest board, will experiment with later start-times for high schools in the hopes of improving student performance and even curbing suicides.

The board’s trustees approved a $25,000 item in their new budget for a pilot project to start one high school one hour later than the usual start time around 8 a.m.

Veteran trustee Peter Jaffe has been advocating later high school start times for years.

He said a number of studies have shown that adolescents need about nine hours and those who are sleep-deprived have more mental health and attention problems.

“There’s an improvement in mood and mental health. . . . Doing math at 8 a.m, as opposed to 10 a.m, makes a difference in students being able to pay attention,” he said.

Some studies also show teens who get enough sleep are involved in fewer auto accidents.

Oxford County trustee Graham Hart said he pushed for the pilot study because of the potential mental health benefits. Five students in Woodstock schools committed suicide last year.

“The link is tiredness. It’s a common thread that teenagers are tired and it affects their biological clock.

“We have to think differently about these things,” said Hart who noted other school boards have experimented with later high school times.

School board started moving to early start times for high schools decades ago as a way to save money on busing.

School buses typically do “double runs,” transporting high school students first and then picking up elementary students.

Eliminating those double runs could significantly boost the board’s transportation costs, but there is an alternative.

Jaffe and Hart said the current system may be “backwards” because it is older students between 12 and 19 who could benefit most from another hour of sleep.

“It’s the elementary system start time that should be earlier. It makes no sense,” said Jaffe.

The $25,000 allocated in the budget the pilot study would cover the increased cost of busing as well as a a study to evaluate the effect of later start times on students.

Jaffe said he expects the later start time would be popular with most students but he said there could be some resistance if it interferes with school sports teams and other extracurricular activities.

It could also impact students with after-school jobs or who care for younger siblings.

Jaffe doesn’t expect the pilot study will begin until January or even September next year because the board will need time to work with a willing school community.