NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - The North Salem school board plans to hire a consultant to research the impact of instituting later start times.

The board voted on March 11 to go forward with the study, which had been slated for deferral until next year due to costs. However, Superintendent Dr. Ken Freeston announced, the $25,000 study could go forward more immediately.

“We are using grant money, not operating funds, to get the school hours/start time study back on schedule, that is, in the 2020-2021 school year,” Freeston said in an email.

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This comes as good news to North Salem parents who are proponents of later start times.

Elizabeth Malvino, chair of the Healthy School Start Time Committee in North Salem and administrator of the Northern Westchester Chapter of Start School Later, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to healthy, safe and equitable school hours, has been pushing for such a decision by the school board for some time.

“I began this initiative primarily because I started to see the effects of early start times on my oldest child upon entering middle school,” Malvino said. “In exploring the research, I learned that most school schedules are not currently in sync with the sleep needs of middle- and high-schoolers, whose brains and bodies are still growing. Given this is a district that focuses heavily on mental health and student wellness, the discussion about shifting start times seemed very relevant.”

Malvino said there are many positive impacts of later start times. Alternatively, she said, studies have shown that teens with insufficient sleep can show impairments in learning and memory, poor emotional regulation, depression, anxiety, suicidal thinking, increased athletic injuries and driving accidents due to drowsiness.

Teens go through a physiological sleep shift when they hit puberty that hard-wires them to stay awake typically until 11 p.m.,

Malvino said, so even students with impeccable sleep hygiene cannot get the recommended amount of rest they need if they have to take a 7:28 a.m. class.

She also noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all taken a firm stance that starting school later is beneficial to adolescent health.    

Malvino said that changing start times requires input from district leaders, department heads, parents, students, teachers and other community members.

“I really do believe our district leaders and members of the board do have a firm understanding of the science behind what happens when teens have insufficient sleep,” Malvino said. “I don’t think convincing them of the science is the issue. I think it has more to do with the budget and can we find funding to hire a consultant to start looking at these things.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the Board of Education meeting, Freeston had said that he fully supports the research on later start times but implementing the change is a complex problem and cited issues with transportation routes.

“Most districts take two to three years to address those issues,” Freeston said. “They’re not quick fixes we can grab from other school districts. We have to study it ourselves.”

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