To: Okaloosa County School Board and Superintendent of Schools

Please Change Middle and High School Start Times in Okaloosa County to 8:30 or later starting Aug...

Growing evidence and studies of adolescent sleep have shown that early school start times undermine mental health and safety of teens, not just their academic achievements. Studies of later starting schools have seen improvement in academics, and the health and well-being of teens, with minimal to no effect on extracurricular activities (including football, where Navarre, whose start time is 9:15am, had an undefeated regular season this year). To improve student's health, well-being, and their learning abilities, we ask the Okaloosa County School Board to schedule school hours and bus stop times so no schools, including elementary schools, start earlier than 7:45am, with the ultimate goal that no middle or high school start before 8:30am, as per the CDC's recommendation.

Why is this important?

Currently, high schools in Okaloosa County start at exactly 7 o' clock in the morning. These start times are harmful for our teens, in regards to their mental health, grades, and their safety. Furthermore, early school start times are linked to increased drug use, sleep deprivation, depression, and other health problems related to lack of sleep. Many organizations, such as Start School Later, say that starting high school classes later would reduce tardiness to the first two periods of classes, improve student's grades and test scores, decrease drug use, reduction in car crashes among teens, and improvement in student's attentiveness. A few years ago, in neighboring Santa Rosa County, the starting time for high schools was moved to 9:15am as part of a new three-tiered busing system to save money on busing students to school. After this change, school attendance and grades improved and there were fewer tardies in first period. Another school district which changed their start time from 7:45am to between 8:55am and 9:10am saw their graduation rate jump from around 82% up to 90%.We support the three-tiered system, as it's the most cost-effective way of busing students to school. To keep elementary school parents happy with current elementary start times and to provide middle and high school students more time to get the sleep they need, we propose that these changes be considered:
One option is to move the entire district 30 minutes later, so that means that the high school would begin at 7:30am. But Florosa and Longwood elementary schools would start at 9:30am, and in Seattle parents complained about these late elementary start times, and wanted them to start earlier, like 8am. Also not all schools are at the 7:45am minimum start time we request for all schools.
Another option is to move all middle schools to the third tier, with elementary schools now starting directly after the high school tier. Start times would be 7:55am for the high schools, 8:30-8:35am for the elementary schools, and 9:25am for middle schools. Baker School would be on the 2nd or third tier (due to large busing area and one bus run that runs for up to 100 minutes long), and Laurel Hill on 2nd tier. There are many counties (with both early and later high school start times) in Florida that have middle schools on the third tier, such as Pinellas County, Bay County, Escambia County, and Leon County, among others, with middle school starts as late at 9:30am.
In general, we request that the School Board and Superintendent come up with a later start times plan that meets these guidelines:
- No bus stops, regardless of elementary, middle, or high school bus before 7am.
- No school should start before 7:45am, and preferably not before 8am.
- Middle and high schools must start at 8:30am or later, as per the CDC and AAP recommendations.
- No schools should start after 9:30am, so afternoon bus runs are not after sunset.
- Use the bus optimization software purchased in 2014 to optimize and shorten bus runs to allow the bus window to be shortened, saving money.
- Finally, please implement later start times in August 2017, because doing nothing is to do harm. Please make the change now to help our middle and high school students get the recommended amount of sleep each night.