In CCISD, elementary schools start at 7:55 a.m., intermediate schools start at 8:40 a.m., and high schools start at 7:10 a.m. The CCISD School Start Time Committee of district residents has met four times since late September and considered four separate models that would start high school at 7:30 a.m., 7:45 a.m., 8:15 a.m. or 8:30 a.m.
After much deliberation, the committee could not come to a consensus and is now considering two options: keeping school start times as they are and a model that would start high school 20 minutes later at 7:30 a.m. Dozens of residents, parents, doctors and even a few students attended the committee’s public hearing and urged its 33 members to push for later school start times at the high school level as late as to 8:30 a.m.
Mahalakshmi Ramchandra, a doctor who has been in practice 20 years, said she has seen an increase in teenagers’ depression, anxiety and suicidal behavior due to sleep deprivation. Many residents said modern research and data shows teenagers are healthier when they go to bed later and wake up later.
“This is a major epidemic. Every hour of sleep the child loses, there’s a 38% increase in anxiety [and] depression … and I’m seeing it every day in my clinic,” Ramchandra said. “Sleep deprivation is a torture.”
Another local doctor, Alexandra Whitmire, said teenagers are physically unable to fall asleep as early as other age groups due to teens’ circadian rhythms and melatonin production. When they are consistently required to wake up early, they find themselves in a constant jet-lagged state, she said.
“Teens cannot compensate by going to sleep earlier. Their physiology does not allow it,” Whitmire said.
Proposed workarounds that would allow for later school start times were shot down as being “out of scope” of what the district could accomplish, but the district needs a meaningful solution, even if it leads to implementation challenges, Whitmire said.
“The right thing’s not always the easiest thing,” she said.
Committee Chair Rene Falls said the committee weighed several factors when considering school start times. The committee had to be conscious of bus transportation, particularly for the district’s special programs, such as dual language and special education; day care; athletics and other extracurricular activities; and the fact that there needs to be 45 minutes between school start times at the elementary, intermediate and high school levels, Falls said.
However, Falls noted scientific research supports a later school start time for teenagers and that high school students report an average of 6 hours and 44 minutes of sleep during the school week.
Committee member Pam McCraw spoke during the meeting not as a committee member but as a concerned resident. She said the committee did not have enough time to research, get expert witnesses on sleep science or properly assess how the models may address the charge to maximize student safety.
Rachel Boeckenhauer said she is the parent of a student who developed chronic exhaustion because of early school start times.
“It’s not the right thing what we’re doing to our kids. It’s damaging,” she said.
Clear Lake High School student Ben Bauers advocated for starting high school later, saying it would increase academic and extracurricular performance.
“The sleep needs of students aren’t being met,” he said.
Resident David Brady said the two proposals the committee is considering do not meet the committee’s charges to meet student safety needs and maximize learning opportunities. Many agree with the idea of starting high school at 8:30 a.m., but the committee’s process did not allow the committee to bring that idea forward, he said.
As part of its work, the committee will consider public feedback and survey results at its Oct. 29 meeting before making a recommendation to the CCISD board of trustees Nov. 11. The board plans to make a decision on school start times at its Nov. 18 meeting.