Alameda Mom Wants School to Start Later

After researching teens’ sleep habbits, Karie Frasch petitions the school board to start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to improve learning outcomes. The district is studying it.


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Anne Rogers and Karie Frasch are Alameda moms interested in later starting school days for teens.

Photo by Chris Duffey

Bleary eyes beneath heavy lids. Mussed hair. A tendency to communicate in only mumbles and grunts. These are all classic symptoms of a common ailment suffered by the American teenager. It’s called waking up in the morning.

A shower and some breakfast can usually alleviate the symptoms. In all seriousness, though, many groggy adolescents are suffering from a real and chronic health problem: insufficient sleep. Failure to catch the optimal 8.5 to 9.5 hours of nightly shut-eye increases their risk of obesity, anxiety, and depression while impairing their memory and mental focus. And although hormonal changes and staying up too late also contribute to the problem, one critical way that teens lose sleep is by simply rolling out of bed too early.

Not that they want to, obviously. They just need to make their first-period class before the bell rings. However, this obligation can prove detrimental, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which after evaluating the epidemic of insufficient sleep has concluded that “the evidence strongly implicates earlier school start times.”

The AAP has therefore recommended that “in most districts, middle and high schools should aim for a starting time of no earlier than 8:30 a.m.” In a 2014 policy statement citing countless studies on how sleep loss erodes cognitive function, emotional stability, and physical well-being, the organization declared support for “delaying school start times as a means of optimizing sleep and alertness in the learning environment.” Toward implementing these changes, it encouraged “all school administrators and other stakeholders in communities around the country to review the scientific evidence regarding school start times, to initiate discussions on this issue, and to systematically evaluate the community-wide impact.”

Alameda mom Karie Frasch has taken this message to heart. “I’ve been reading this research,” she explained, “and I kept thinking, why isn’t Alameda doing this? Why isn’t anyone talking about this in Alameda? Because Alameda, I really think of it as a very progressive district that really puts kids first, is always thinking about new and cutting-edge ways to really help kids do better. And yet no one has talked about this. So after hoping for a few years that somebody would, and nobody did, I just decided to launch out on my own on it.”

Frasch incorporated the research she had found into an online petition calling on the Alameda Unified School District’s board of education to delay school start times. Currently, most AUSD high schools start at 8 a.m. (with an optional “zero” period at 7 a.m.), with middle schools following at 8:15 a.m. or 8:20 a.m.; the petition requested these times be pushed back to at least 8:30 a.m., and preferably no earlier than 9 a.m.

To Frasch’s pleasant surprise, the petition received hundreds of signatures. She and fellow mom Anne Rogers compiled these endorsements and the research into sleek booklets, which they submitted to AUSD officials when delivering public testimony at the board’s Feb. 23 convening. In mid-March, the pair met with Superintendent Sean McPhetridge to expound on their cause.

After that conversation, McPhetridge commented, “I am very grateful to these two forward-thinking parents for bringing this matter to our attention and to the attention of families.” Looking ahead, he revealed, “Our current plan is to convene a task force this coming year to explore this idea with a wide range of involved stakeholders, including families, employees, and students.”

For the idea to result in a change of policy, the task force will need to grapple with various logistical challenges. The thorniest Frasch has read about relates to whether shifting the school day later would hurt sports teams by cutting into practice minutes or intramural competition. Seeking to alleviate this concern, she said studies have found that such a shift can actually increase athletic participation, and that teen athletes who get more sleep suffer fewer injuries and play at a higher level. She acknowledged transportation may pose another potential stumbling block, but pointed out AUSD depends very little on contracted busing, one of the more significant complications facing other districts seeking to adjust school schedules.

Drawing these kinds of comparisons and examining experiences elsewhere can help Alameda’s education community determine how best to proceed. And there are a lot of examples across the country to consult. As of 2014, at least 70 districts (representing more than 1,000 schools) have delayed start times, according to Frasch.

Ultimately, she hopes AUSD will join this national movement.

“There’s just no question now that the research is very clear on this,” she declared, “and school districts that have done this have seen really big improvements.”

To reach Karie Frasch, email her at FraschKarie@gmail.com.

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