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SALT LAKE CITY — A House committee on Monday gave unanimous approval to HCR3, which encourages school districts, charter schools, and school community councils to consider the possible benefits and consequences of a later start to the school day for high schoolers.
The resolution’s sponsor, Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper, acknowledged given the diversity of Utah’s school districts and charter schools that there is no “one-size-fits-all” mechanisms or policies to start school later.
Thus, the resolution encourages schools to study health, mental health and academic benefits, and then craft solutions that would work for them, said Harrison, who is a physician, while addressing the House Health and Human Services Committee.
“There’s lots of potential solutions. For me, as the sponsor of this, it’s critical that we make sure that we’re having conversations and being leaders encouraging districts to have these conversations and not be prescriptive in the solutions because this is not a one-size-fits-all issue. We have a lot of smart people in this state who can come up with innovative ideas as we’ve seen by the two folks that testified today,” she said.
Anthony Godfrey, superintendent of the Jordan School District, spoke in support of the resolution.
On Friday, Godfrey announced that starting next fall, 11th and 12th graders at Jordan District high schools will have the option of starting school at 9 a.m. instead of 7:30 a.m. if they take blended learning courses, which are courses taught primarily online but give students the option of interacting with teachers in person as needed.
“We feel this is an important issue as well and appreciate efforts to bring focus on it,” he said.
The Salt Lake City Board of Education is already studying late start, recently conducting a listening tour to gauge community sentiment. The board has created a task force to look at the issue further.
Board member Katherine Kennedy said after 12 hours meeting with constituents, “we found that 70-75%, by my accounting, are in favor of late start.”
Kennedy said she appreciates the resolution because “we feel as though it will help us continue this conversation, continue to work out how we can implement late start work without repercussions to our families,” 60% of whom are low income.
Some options under consideration are a blended learning model or work-study for the final period of the school day to help accommodate students who work, she said.
Kennedy, who said she spoke for herself and was not representing the board, said the mental health, physical health and academic benefits of youth getting more sleep are compelling.
According to HCR3, just 10% of adolescents get the recommended 9.25 hours of sleep each night. The Center of Disease Control’s 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that 75.4% of American high school students get less than eight hours of sleep and 43% get less than six hours of sleep on school nights.
According to the resolution, research show numerous consequences and impacts on adolescent brain development associated with sleep deprivation.
They include lack of attention to learning tasks, poor retention of information taught, low grades, increased risk of auto accidents, increased disciplinary problems, impaired judgment, increased suicidal thinking, increased levels of anxiety and depression, decreased motivation, increased substance abuse and other negative consequences.
Last fall, California became the first state in the nation to push back school start times for all middle and high schoolers. In October, Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that would phase in later school start times in secondary schools over three years. Some rural schools will be exempt, but at most others, middle schools would not start before 8 a.m. and high schools would start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
In recent years, Utah educators, elected officials and parents have debated the issue in school community council meetings, local school board meetings and the Utah Legislature. To date, only Logan City School District has made the switch.
In Logan, middle school starts at 8:30 a.m. and high school starts at 8 a.m., which is only about 20 minutes later than the previous bell schedule.