School start time study mandated under new law

Bill is headed to Gov. O'Malley's desk

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The debate over school start times could soon be informed by scientific research following the passage of a bill that requires a study by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“The study will review the science on the sleep needs of children and adolescents, including the effects of sleep deprivation on academic performance and benefits of sufficient sleep,” according to a release from the nonprofit group Start School Later . “It will also examine how other school systems have implemented alternative starting times and consider how school activities were affected.”

The bill requires a recommendation from the department of health by the end of 2014. The latest school could potentially start for high school students is 8 a.m., the release states.

“Most public high schools in Maryland begin before 7:30 a.m., with buses coming as early as 5:45 a.m.,” the release states. “Montgomery, Howard, and Anne Arundel Counties are actively considering pushing back the morning bell for high schools, although similar efforts over the past two decades have failed.”

The issue of school start times has been a priority for parents in Anne Arundel County, where public school officials said pushing back morning bells is a tricky balancing act  since elementary, middle and high school students are transported on the same bus lines.

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"Chronic sleep loss in adolescents and its consequences is one of the most important public health issues that faces our nation's youth," said Dr. Judith Owens, director of Sleep Medicine at Children's National Medical Center, in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee in support of the legislation, the release states.

"Multiple studies have now shown that delaying school start times in both middle school and high school by as little as 30 minutes results in significant increase in sleep amounts," Owens said.