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Time change means Wake students start class before sunrise

Posted March 12
Updated March 13

Photo by Dawn Ellinger

The Triangle awoke to a winter reminder Sunday with a dusting of snow but Wake County high school students, faculty and staff will see another reminder of winter: starting their day before the sun.

The week following the time change is challenging for all, adolescent or otherwise. The North Carolina Department of Transportation warns drivers to pay extra attention at dawn, especially as we adapt to daylight saving time.

The bell rings at 7:25 a.m. at all but one of the 31 high schools across the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS). Students will arrive to school before sunrise this week as a result of Sunday’s time shift.

Students last arrived at school during morning twilight last year during the two week period from late October through early November leading up to the end of daylight saving time.

In total, 17 of 180 instructional days begin before sunrise at those high schools during the 2016-2017 WCPSS school year.

A shift of just a few minutes can lead to a lot more first periods that begin before sunrise. Wake Forest High School’s five minute earlier start time adds another 22 of school days that begin before the sun rises.

Last week, WCPSS officials proposed changes to the bell schedule including a 7:10 a.m. start time for Apex High School. Bob Snidemiller, Wake’s senior director of transportation, recommended the change to accommodate the additional six mile drive to Green Level High in Cary while Apex High is renovated. Snidemiller cited a lack of bus drivers needed to continue starting Apex High at its current time.

If approved by the school board, Apex High (at Green Level High) will start its day before the sun 70 times during the 2017-2018 school year, a 312% increase.

A 2011 Centers for Disease Control study found that 68.9% of students weren’t getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep.

Insisting that teens go to bed earlier won't fix the problem according to the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center. Adolescents feel sleepy about 2 hours later than they did before puberty. This "sleep phase delay” is caused by a natural shift in circadian rhythms. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests a school start time no earlier 8:30 a.m. for adolescents.

Both the CDC and AAP cite insufficient sleep as contributing to increased instances of depression and lowered academic performance as well as impacting driver safety and overall health in adolescents.

A two-year study of Virginia Department of Motor Vehiclesdata in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found a 26.3% higher weekday crash rate among 16-18 year old Chesterfield County, Va. drivers, where high schools start at 7:20 a.m. over adjacent Henrico County, Va., where classes start at 8:45 a.m. Researchers found no difference in adult crash rates or traffic congestion. Analysis also showed "significantly more run-off road crashes to the right (potentially sleep-related)."

A two-year experiment in Lexington, Ky. saw a 16.5% decrease in accidents involving teen drivers following a 1 hour delay in high school start times.

According to the Durham County Public school website, elementary schools start between 7:25 and 7:30 a.m. while high schools begin no earlier than 8:50 a.m. Elementary schools in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system start at 7:25 and high schools begin at 8:00 a.m. Orange County’s three high schools start no earlier than 8:25 a.m.

5 Comments

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  • RB Redmond Mar 20, 2017
    user avatar

    Which means they're waiting for school buses in the dark, which makes no good sense whatseover.
    How long before a child gets killed AGAIN, waiting for a school bus in the dark!?!

  • Olymp Medco Mar 13, 2017
    user avatar

    Let's just do the 30-minute middle ground and be done with this back-and-forth. So
    +4:30 hours after GMT permanently for ET.

  • James Grimes Jr. Mar 13, 2017
    user avatar

    The schools are starting school in the wrong direction. An idea: elementary can start at 7am and let the middle schools start at 8am and then the high schools at 9am. This way, the student's body rhythms are accounted for, and the system can still have its tiered bus schedules, but in a more predictable way.

  • Bubba Smith Mar 13, 2017
    user avatar

    Why do we even go off of day light savings time? In fact, in the winter, we should spring forwared an additional hour (instead of falling back).

  • Steve Moore Mar 13, 2017
    user avatar

    What would it take to stop this nonsense of daylight saving time ?