DASD to move to later start times in 2024-25

Downingtown Area School District is the latest Chester County school district to move to later start times.

Downingtown Area School District (DASD) is taking a major step towards improving student health and academic success by implementing a 20-minute later start time for its secondary schools (grades 9-12) starting in the 2024-25 school year.

Currently, all DASD seventh- through twelfth-grade schools begin at 7:40 a.m. and end at 2:40 p.m. In the 2024-25 school year, secondary school will begin at 8:00 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m. This change prioritizes student sleep without significantly disrupting elementary schedules or afterschool activities.

“The well-being of our students is at the heart of every decision we make at DASD,” said Dr. O’Donnell, Superintendent of Schools. “Research overwhelmingly demonstrates that teenagers benefit significantly from later start times, experiencing improved sleep patterns, enhanced focus in the classroom, and overall stronger academic performance.”

“We are grateful to our board, committee and the larger school community for sharing their time, insights and ideas to help realize this change in support of our students.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) both recommend that teens between the ages of 13 and 18 get at least eight to ten hours of sleep per night. Based on the findings from both the district’s Youth Truth survey and the DASD Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) data, the majority of DASD high school students are getting less than eight hours of sleep each night.

According to the AASM, this decrease in total hours slept can be attributed to, in part, “a delayed circadian rhythm that contributes to later sleep onset and later morning awakening, with teenagers typically struggling to fall asleep before 11:00 PM.”

The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine released a 2016 study stating that, “regularly sleeping fewer than the number of recommended hours is associated with attention, behavior, and learning problems. Insufficient sleep also increases the risk of accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and depression.” Further, “insufficient sleep in teenagers is associated with increased risk of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts.”

During the 2021-22 school year, a committee made up of more than fifty administrators, teachers, staff members, students, parents and community members met to investigate school start times. The team spoke with other districts, solicited stakeholder input, dove into the data and brainstormed ways to overcome challenges.

Dr. Indira Gurubhagavatula, chair of the public safety committee for American Academy of Pediatrics, Director of the University of Pennsylvania Sleep Medicine Fellowship and Professor of Medicine (Sleep Medicine) at the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, provided valuable guidance throughout the investigation and facilitated community forums to help improve public understanding. “They [high school students] are so profoundly sleep deprived that they are at a point where they will take any minute they can get. Any step toward better aligning their sleep schedule with their biological rhythm will have payoffs.”

Options considered include flipping the elementary and secondary schedules, pushing all start and end times back one hour later, staggering start times to include a third bus run, leveraging online learning to shift secondary start times and, finally, or making no change at all. Ultimately, the committee landed on a 20-minute delay to secondary start times.

To address the concern of a shorter instructional day, DASD has maximized learning time by consolidating professional development days and expanding STEM’s “lunch-and-learn” program across the entire high school level. This dedicated hour will offer students opportunities to collaborate with peers, seek extra help with teachers, visit with school counselors, do homework, eat and socialize.

“We understand that any schedule change requires adjustment,” said School Board President LeeAnn Wisdom. “However, we believe the potential benefits for our students are too significant to ignore. We are confident that this change will create a more positive and productive learning environment for all.”

To learn more about school start times and the district’s plans for next year, visit www.dasd.org/start-times.

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