Gowanda to consider later start to school day

GOWANDA — Students at Gowanda Middle/High School start their school day at approximately 7:15 a.m., which is more than an hour earlier than the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended start time for adolescents. “We’ve kicked around this idea a few times over the last six or seven years,” said Gowanda Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson, who said that discussion about a later start time is on the agenda for the Dec. 5 meeting of the board of education.

Gowanda is not the only district to consider a later start time recently. On Sept. 24, the OBSERVER reported on a Fredonia Central School Board of Education meeting during which a district resident presented a petition for a start time of 8:30 a.m.

By comparison, Fredonia middle/high school students begin their day at 7:43 a.m. In that article, Fredonia Superintendent Jeff Sortisio was quoted saying, “To be clear, in the short-term changing any schedule will be disruptive.”

Anderson acknowledged that there may be some barriers to the change, including transportation schedules, contractual issues and students’ activities. “Of course, there are athletic schedules, after-school activities and even families depending on older siblings being home before younger siblings,” Anderson explained. Currently, elementary students start their day at 8:15 a.m.; Anderson said a single start time for all students in the district may be considered, but a change to the elementary school start time may also be discussed.

According to Anderson, over the years board members and members of administration have brought up the idea of a later start time, which the current members of the school board have recently considered for discussion. Current board of education members are President Cynthia Sutherland, Vice President Edward Daniel York, Lynn Guzzetta, Mark Nephew, Dana Szalay, Janet Vogtli and Barbara Weston.

“At this point, it looks like the research is fairly clear and strong that those biological rhythms of teens and the amount of sleep they need put them at a later start in the day,” Anderson explained, referencing the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended start time of 8:30 a.m.

In a July 2018 article by the Centers for Disease Control, this recommendation was compared to the 2014 School Health Policies and Practices Study, which said 93 percent of high schools and 83 percent of middle schools in the U.S. started before 8:30 a.m. The CDC article went on to reference the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which recommends that teenagers aged 13 to 18 years should sleep eight to 10 hours per day for good health. According to the CDC, adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to perform poorly in school, become overweight, suffer from depression and engage in risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking tobacco and using illicit drugs.

Anderson said that by starting at 7:15 a.m., “We may be putting a structural roadblock in front of kids from achieving more than they could. A simple change on our end could benefit us, as a school district, and of course, the health of our kids.”

The Gowanda Board of Education will take up the issue at their meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. in the middle school library, 10674 Prospect St., Gowanda.