Mira Costa will look into zero-period, start time to address teen sleep issues
The Beach Reporter, November 14, 20
by Carley Dryden
Local doctor Linda Schack, an adolescent medicine specialist, had grown concerned.
High school students flooded her practice complaining of headaches, abdominal pain and fatigue. When she asked how much sleep they got on weekdays, she received the same answer: six hours. But on weekends, they would sleep until noon or 1 p.m.
Alarmed by the local teens’ sleep patterns and ailments, Schack and fellow doctor Mini Mehra reviewed scientific literature on the topic and presented their findings to the Manhattan Beach Unified School District’s Medical Advisory Board last year. Schack and Mehra found that schools with later start times reported less tardiness, better grades, less visits to the nurse’s office, and fewer disciplinary problems. Jessamine County, KY saw a 16.5% reduction in motor vehicle accidents in 2003, when the high school start time moved 50 minutes later.
“This is affecting the health of our kids,” Schack said. “That’s why we’re concerned. It’s a medical health issue.”
Last month, the Manhattan Beach school board discussed that research —namely, scientific studies showing many students do not get the amount of sleep they need, typically 9 to 10 hours — and focused in on the high school’s start time and zero-period offerings. The doctors also examined the schedules of California high schools, some of which have pushed start times to 8:30 a.m. or later.
The first period at Mira Costa High School starts at 8 a.m., but 756 students are enrolled in the 26 zero-period classes offered at 7 a.m.
“That’s a little less than one-third of the population of Mira Costa. That’s a lot of kids getting in there at 7 in the morning, and we know physiologically they’re not as aware and awake and prepared to learn,” said school board member Bill Fournell. “I question how much value and actual learning (is being accomplished), and if they’re able to get through class.”
Fournell acknowledged that changing the high school’s start time would not be a simple decision.
“The other side of the coin is it’s a big deal to try to change a school schedule like that,” he said. “There are implications like after-school sports, parents dropping kids off to school in the morning, the teachers’ schedules and what they’ve gotten used to.”
The school board members questioned if zero-period courses were the most effective offerings for students.
Student school board member and Mira Costa senior Michael Whinfrey said he was forced to take zero-period classes because many of the classes he wanted or needed weren’t offered in sixth period, the last period of the day, from 2 to 3 p.m.
“It’s been pretty difficult for me, because I’m not really a morning person,” said Whinfrey, who is currently taking health zero period. “I would really like to see more classes offered sixth period.”
Whinfrey said if he could go to bed at 9 p.m. every night, he would.
“The issue is I have so much going on and so much homework. I finish my homework at midnight and go right to bed, and I wake up at 5:45 to get ready for zero period,” he said. “In my classes, I really don’t feel myself wake up and be ready to go until maybe second or third period.”
School board member Karen Komatinsky said the amount of students enrolled in zero-period classes is “startling.”
“(These numbers) are setting expectations for a lot of parents,” she said. “My son takes a zero-period class at the middle school because he wants to. But I know a lot of people around me are very fearful of their kids taking a zero and will not support them. I think this is an opportune time to discuss this.”
The school board directed staff to sit down with Mira Costa administrators, teachers and students to ensure the master schedule is student-driven. District staff said more research into school start times would have to be completed before any changes would be made.
Comment posted, no name provided:
The real issue in this district is the amount of homework these kids are given on a nightly basis. Many kids from the middle school to high school do 3 to 5 hours of homework a night. That is just not right and is counter productive. The district and some parents are obsessed with getting the best standardized test scores and view the homework as a necessary evil. We are burning out the kids and taking them away from the other activities that make them well rounded productive and happy adults such as music, dance, sports and arts.