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Ask Dr. Wendt: Teeanagers' need for sleep too important to ignore

Published: Friday, Sept. 4, 2015 5:30 a.m. CST

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your questions at askdrwendt@sd308.org. I hope my responses provide answers as School District 308 continues to develop plans to improve academic achievement. I received several questions on each of the following topics and I hope the information is helpful.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urgently recommended that middle and high school starting times start later than 8:30 a.m. Will District 308 comply with these recommendations in the near future?

Thank you for asking this important question and allowing me to address the issue as it relates to School District 308. I am very pleased to acknowledge the topic of adolescent sleep is receiving more and more attention by the general public. And, it is about time.

For the past two years, the topic of adolescent sleep has become a point of interest for School District 308. In fact, the topic of start/end times remains one of the school district’s internal priorities. We believe initial progress can be accomplished through an employee committee studying the research and preparing reports and presentations for the Board of Education.

At our August Convocation for all School District 308 employees, I included start/end times as a recommended topic that needs to be addressed as the school system considers avenues to improve academic achievement. We simply know too much about the importance of teenagers and sleep to ignore the issue.

To your point, the CDC did highlight the importance of sleep for young people. As noted in numerous journal articles and media reports, the CDC recommends no secondary school should begin prior to 8:30 a.m. For those interested in reading the report and more information provided by the CDC, please go to www.cdc.gov. In addition, a simple Google search on the topic will reveal considerable information and data.

The CDC study and recommendations further highlight what many researchers have been communicating for some time. Research is very clear: older children learn better later in the morning compared to younger children. Currently, School District 308 begins school for high school and junior high school students earlier than elementary schools. In my opinion, and now supported by the CDC, it is time to consider an adjustment in start/end times.

There will be challenges and barriers to overcome. I understand that athletic practices, after-school activities and traditional schedules will require modifications. Acknowledging what experts continue to find and report, I trust we have the courage to address a potential adolescent health issue.

I am a father of two college students and I would be remiss if I failed to communicate the importance of parent decision-making around this topic. We do recognize parent responsibilities for ensuring kids are provided with adequate sleep.

With strong parent partnerships, there should be school policies, protocols and procedures that allow for best practice. As superintendent, I will continue to maintain a focus on those issues that can provide an improved framework so all students achieve at high levels. It is clear to me one of those areas is the start/end times for School District 308 schools.

Later this school year, as noted earlier, an internal employee committee will be formed to collect research, and data. Presentations to the Board of Education will be recommended for late spring. There are several board-approved priorities that need to be addressed to ensure our school district is efficient and effective, including decisions about kindergarten and early childhood programming. District boundary lines are likely to be changed within the next two school years.

I believe start/end times will be an important issue for the Board of Education during the 2016-17 school year, and the issue will likely become a part of a larger discussion around boundary lines and potential facility changes. Utilizing this timeline, any adjustments to start/end times would be made for the 2017-18 school year.

Stay informed… and I will do my best to keep you updated on our progress.

• If you have questions, please email Dr. Wendt at AskDrWendt@sd308.org, or via the Community Unit School District 308 website at www.sd308.org. Citizens may drop their questions off at the Board of Education/District Administration Center. 

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