Why remote school should have started later

Despite+the+convenience+of+later+start+times+during+quarantine%2C+Lynbrook+continues+to+begin+the+day+at+8+a.m.%2C+against+the+advice+of+student+health+experts.

Graphic illustration by Elena Williams

Despite the convenience of later start times during quarantine, Lynbrook continues to begin the day at 8 a.m., against the advice of student health experts.

Elena Williams

First period has a distinctive atmosphere — stifled yawns, sluggish shuffling, dead-eyed stares. Students are tired.

There is no shortage of evidence proving that early school start times correlate to everything from lower academic performance to serious physical and mental health risks. Everyone, from the CDC to the American Pediatrics Association, agrees that earlier start times are mostly harmful. 

Both the nation and the state of California have begun transitioning toward the recommended start times of 8:30 a.m. or later. Yet, despite the fact that remote learning has provided a near-perfect opportunity to test out later start times, this year’s schedule still begins at 8 a.m. Bleary eyes and caffeinated drinks remain.

When school closed unexpectedly in the spring, start times were immediately pushed to 9 a.m. Though the new semester will aim for a larger amount of synchronous class time and greater coursework, the district can still learn from students’ experiences at the end of last year by listening to those who benefited from the delay.

“Being able to catch up on sleep and then wake up at 8:30 or 8:40 was very nice,” senior Rashmi Ramchandra said. “I was still able to get enough sleep to function during my classes and truly retain information, learn and be an active participant.”

Though regularly waking up at 8:40 is not feasible for the new year, a start time of 8:30 a.m. is both realistic and proven to benefit students. For this year, it would simply entail pushing the Monday and Thursday schedules back by half and hour.

Students whose schools adhere to CDC guidelines by starting at or later than 8:30 a.m. see a wide range of advantages, ranging from healthier exercise habits and lower rates of depression to alertness in class and improved scholastic achievement. In fact, research has found that the typical teenage student’s Circadian rhythms impede their ability to go to sleep before 11 p.m. or wake up before 8 a.m. 

Mental health, physical health and performance all increase noticeably for students whose daily routine aligns more closely with their biology. Mental health, in particular, is a persisting problem at Lynbrook which could be addressed in part by a better schedule.

“I’ve seen people sleep in class [in first period] right next to me,” Ramchandra said. “A lot of people genuinely can’t pay attention because they’re too tired. Those 30 minutes can make a huge difference.”

It is true, however, that administrators cannot completely overhaul school schedules to suit students’ biological clocks. Just as students’ commitments in adulthood will not automatically adjust themselves to suit their sleep preferences, school schedules must balance several other considerations — from parents’ work times to sports games and extracurricular activities. Due to these logistical realities, it is nearly impossible for the average student to regularly wake up after 8 a.m. in a typical school year.

But this is not a typical school year. So many of the considerations that typically hinder efforts to push back start times are no longer relevant. 

Parents had to drop off students before work? No need without in-person classes. Athletics had to finish before sunset? Not anymore. Students’ afternoons had to fit in extracurricular activities? With everything remote, almost any time can now be accommodated.

Almost all the major obstacles have suddenly disappeared. So if everyone acknowledges the proven benefits to later start times, why not take this incredibly rare opportunity to not only make school more manageable for students, but also investigate the effects of later start times on the Lynbrook student body?

There are some reasonable concerns that the district may have. While it would be easy to alter the existing schedule to adhere to the guidelines — Mondays and Thursdays would simply start 30 minutes later — this may cause concerns about the end of the day. School now runs longer and with the change, would end at 4 p.m. for students with seventh-period classes. For this and other reasons, not all students feel that later start times will help them.

“I don’t think it would make that big of a difference for me,” junior Archana Pisupati said. “But something in my subconscious would tell me that it’s okay to put off more of my work [until the morning], and I think I would get more unmotivated.”

Another concern with this switch might be that when students return to in-person schooling, they will need to readjust to start times of 8 a.m. If the schedule reverts to its original state, though, they also will need to adjust to having synchronous class time on Wednesdays, though, as well as using a seven-period schedule and traveling to and from school. Whatever schedule the school does decide upon for the return to in-person learning may also be completely new, as they may make changes to limit contact between students. In short, the schedule has made many other significant changes in the interest of adapting to the new format of school; it can make another.

It has been almost a year since Governor Newsom signed into law a ban on all high school start times before 8:30 a.m., which will go into effect in the school year of 2022-2023. Now, a near-perfect opportunity to fully investigate what benefits later start times could have for students, without any of the drawbacks, has just presented itself. This uniquely convenient chance to investigate the effects of compliance with recommended guidelines will likely never come again.

It is unlikely that schools will reopen soon — or stay open for very long if they do. Remote learning is not what anyone wanted or envisioned; still, it is where we are now. But while almost every consequence of the coronavirus has been catastrophic for Lynbrook, the ability to explore later start times is an opportunity that the district must seize.