Several Santa Monica parents are rounding up support to change the start of school days.

Carrie Davies, a parent of two students in the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District, launched a petition last week to ask the school district to move school start times for all middle and high schools to 8:30 a.m. or later for the benefit of students’ well-being. The petition has over 600 signatures at time of publication.

The petition was created in response to a new schedule being piloted at Santa Monica High School that would move the school start time from 8:15 to 8:08.  For students taking zero period, the start time would move from 7:12 to 7:00. Davies says the move to an 8:30 a.m. or later start time, which may seem negligible to some, would improve student’s lives for the better.

It may not seem like a big change but for a teenager, you can feel that difference,” Davies said in a phone call.

“Science is clear that adolescents experience a shift in their natural sleep cycle that causes them to fall asleep later,” Davies continued in an email to the Daily Press.  “Since they also need 8.5-9.5 hours sleep each night, early school start times contribute to an epidemic of sleep-deprived teens.”

This sleep deprivation, Davies says — backed up with research articles from organizations such as the American Medical Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the RAND Corporation and American Academy of Sleep Medicine, who all advocate for later school start times — leads to negative health and learning impacts such as impaired cognitive performance, impeded judgment and decision-making ability, and mood swings and behavior problems.

The petition names numerous positives associated with later start times, including being more efficient and alert in class, having greater motivation and a significant increase in academic performance, with benefits roughly twice as great in disadvantaged students.

In response to the petition, the SMMUSD school board released a statement from Board President Dr. Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein who said all schools currently start at 8:15 a.m. or later but some middle and high schools offer an early “Period A” that starts before the first regular class of the day.

“We strive to give families choices and for some the Period A works for parent and student schedules,” he said. “Period A is optional and does not reflect the regular start times. These classes are available for students who have extracurricular activities, need an extra class, or may need to work part-time or care for a sibling after school.”

Tahvildaran-Jesswein said the Board is continuing to study school start times in collaboration with teachers, parents and students.

Adjusting times require consideration of various programs and services that may be impacted including bus transportation, extra-curricular opportunities, including athletics, music and arts, child care, and consideration for the impact on working parents,” he said. “The difference of the time start for regular days for our middle and high school students is currently 10-15 minutes earlier than the recommended 8:30 am start, as suggested in the petition.”

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