Ohio lawmaker proposes pushing back school start times statewide

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW)-- Safety and success are the two main goals State Sen. Sandra Williams (Cleveland-D) has for her piece of legislation that would move the start of the school day to 8:30 a.m. or later.

The bill is modeled after a California bill and does one thing: Mandates no schools can begin instruction before 8:30 a.m.

Williams said this is about the safety of kids who currently walk to school, sometimes in the dark.

"The safety of the children in the state of Ohio should be our number one concern," Williams said.

She also said the state owes all students a quality education, but doesn't think they are giving them a fair shot at one by making teens attend classes when they're having difficulty focusing when they are tired.

"We all know that students are not at their best at 7:30 or 8 in the morning," Williams said.

Some school districts have already moved their start times back and begin no earlier than 8 a.m. These include Ashtabula, Bexley, and Cincinnati. But there are some school districts that aren't thrilled with the idea. In Lima, Shawnee School District Superintendent Jim Kanable bristled at the prospect of losing local control.

"It's like so many things that have been given to us by legislators," Kanable said.. "I truly think a lot of these decisions need to be local decisions." He said pushing start times back will cause a litany of problems. "Many things are impacted. It's truly a domino effect as far as when you start pulling one area out and the impacts that that has on many other areas of your operation."

Williams, who stated on more than one occasion she is prepared to adjust her bill to make it easier lawmakers and school districts to accept, said this shouldn't be that difficult to figure out.

"In business, you have to adjust every day. You have to adjust based on what's on the table and I believe if we put some thought into it, they could adjust," Williams said.

One of the complaints brought up over pushing the start time back is that rural Ohio could be affected if high school-aged kids aren't available to help on family farms because they are still in school in the later afternoons. Williams countered with advancements in technology are reducing the need for help on farms.

Beyond the logistical issues this bill may or may not create, there is the issue about if moving the start time back would benefit the students academic achievements. One of the arguments supporters of the bill use is that students are too tired to concentrate and focus before 8 a.m. when some schools are already testing.

If there is anything school districts against the bill do agree with it is that students need more sleep.

As expected, Dr. Aneesa Das said teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. Smaller children need a little more and adults need 8 to 9 hours. But not all groups need to get that sleep at the same time, according to Das.

Because of our body chemistry, each of us has a circadian rhythm. Seniors bodies naturally tell them to go to bed and rise early, for example.

"Teenagers have a delayed sleep phase," Das said. "So, making them wake up earlier actually makes it harder for them to function optimally in that first hour or two of class."

Simply moving the start time of school back a few hours could actually benefit older teens, according to Das, while having less of a benefit to smaller children. However, just moving the time back doesn't alleviate the need to have the full allotment of sleep required for your age. Das said the same is true the other way around: Getting the allotted amount of sleep does not matter if you wake up before your body is naturally supposed to. She said the two go hand in hand.

Some adults get around this by caffeinating in the morning. While Das said the use of stimulants like coffee are effective, they are only temporary and should strictly be used by adults. Even then, caffeine should only be used by those without heart conditions or other medical issues, like high blood pressure.

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