Community explores pushing back school start times

By: Kara Szymanski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published December 22, 2017

  Judge Kirsten Nielsen Hartig, of the 52-4 District Court, speaks with the community at Clawson Middle School Dec. 4 regarding school start times.

Judge Kirsten Nielsen Hartig, of the 52-4 District Court, speaks with the community at Clawson Middle School Dec. 4 regarding school start times.

Photo by Deb Jacques

CLAWSON — Clawson Public Schools held a community meeting on school start times at the Clawson Middle School media center Dec. 4.

The meeting was presented by 52-4 District Court Judge Kirsten Nielsen Hartig and hosted by the Clawson Public Schools Board of Education.

The community meeting focused on the topic of early school start times and how they affect adolescents, and how multiple organizations and studies recommend pushing back school start times.

“I believe we are doing damage to our teens and children. I see them as a judge later on in life addicted to drugs and committing crimes, or walking into my court with multiple felonies and committing major crimes that even involve the lives of others,” Hartig said.

She said she has been working closely with school districts to make changes to benefit high school and middle school students.

Parents whose children get out of school before the parents get out of work are required to use child care for young children, and that can be a big issue if parents are working or only have one vehicle, Hartig said.

“Those children who are old enough to be sent home on the bus have a two- to three-hour time span where parents are not going to be home due to the early start and release time, resulting in time for them to make bad choices,” she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle schools and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.; however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2014 School Health Policies and Practices study, 93 percent of high schools and 83 percent of middle schools in the U.S. start before 8:30 a.m., according to a handout provided by the Clawson school board.

Middle school and high school in Clawson starts at 7:45 a.m.

“According to studies conducted, in the districts that have adopted this later start time, traffic accidents went down, drug abuse and use went down, GPAs went way up, athletic performances went up, and overall a better attendance (was) noted,” Hartig said.

A short clip from a TED Talk, “Why School Should Start Later for Teens,” hosted by Wendy Troxel, was a key video played during the introduction of the community meeting.

Hartig used the video as a starting point for her evidence.

“During puberty, adolescents biologically become sleepy later at night and need to sleep later in the morning as a result of shifts in biological rhythms. One of the main reasons adolescents do not get enough sleep is early school start times,” said Hartig.

Not everyone at the meeting was completely for the idea.

“My kids wouldn’t want to stay later in the day and would still wake up at the same time even if school started later,” said community member Sue Watt.

“There is no scientific evidence of studies showing early school start times are beneficial to our students; however, there are studies showing that later start times are very beneficial to our students,” said Andrea Hodges, a Clawson school board member.

Hodges has been a member of the board for three years.

“I think it’s a very good idea to have later start times. As a current elementary school student, it would be a big change to have to wake up so early just to go to class in middle school,” said Noah Hodges, a fourth-grader at Schalm Elementary School in Clawson, and Andrea Hodges’ son.

Noah was one of the few students who attended the meeting. Elementary schools begin at 8:15 a.m. in Clawson.

Some of the challenges that were mentioned during the meeting included the issues of parents having to pick up children later, sports, transportation costs for the district and children not using the extra time to sleep.

“As parents, we are doing what is convenient for us; if we had an asbestos problem in the building, we would be tearing it out tomorrow no matter the costs,” Hartig said.

“I’m starting in Clawson and Troy to begin the change,” said Hartig.