Physicians present to Chesterfield parents reason to push back school start time

Posted at 1:44 AM, Oct 29, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-29 01:46:55-04

CHESTERFIELD, Va. -- Two Virginia Commonwealth University physicians made the case to parents, teachers and students in Chesterfield County for pushing back school start times for high school students at a public engagement session Tuesday night.

"When they're in class their brain is saying no, need more sleep," Dr. David Leszczyszyn, Director of VCU's Center for Sleep Medicine, said.

"Melatonin levels peek for teens at 7 am compared to 4 am for adults," Dr. Suzanne Mazzeo, Professor of Psychology and Pediatrics at VCU, said.

A Wellness Council, created in Chesterfield and tasked with developing strategies for healthier lifestyles, came up with the idea to push back school start times.

This option comes on the heels of a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics that noted “children who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems.”

The group then broke off into small groups and discussed the six proposed changes to transportation scheduling.

"When it comes down to it weigh all the cons and seeing how much less cons we have to work with," one parent said.

Still, even after those presentations, some parents had concerns that pushing back start times would keep kids up later by pushing back the time they get out of school, and cost too much.

"These children have homework that is not going to go away," one mother said.

"That money would have to come from somewhere, and it just can't come from my salary or materials," a teacher said.

To that point, the proposed changes range from costing a little over one million dollars for moving all students schedules back 40 minutes, to roughly 34 million dollars for combining middle and high school bus routes.

Superintendent Marcus Newsome said there is no funding source yet for the possible changes.

"We pay less per student with transportation costs than anyone else in the state, so additional dollars really would be necessary," Newsome said.

Newsome said he hopes sessions like this one will educate the public about the issue, an issue that has its fair share of supporters too.

"You can't put a 15 year old to bed at 8:40 at night," one mother said about her daughter who she said does not get enough sleep, which gives her migraines.

"If we have a later start time I feel that I would get more sleep," a student said.

Dr. Mazzeo pointed out that Fairfax County, one of the largest school systems in the country, voted this year to push back start times from 7:20 a.m. to 8 a.m.

No decisions were made at the public engagement meeting about pushing back start times.

The school division will consider what the public shared and then discuss the issue further.