Impacts of Sleep Loss Focus of Senate Public Hearing on Delaying School Start Times

HARRISBURG – Testifiers discussed the impacts of sleep loss on teenagers and the complexity of scheduling a school day during a public hearing about pushing back the required start time for schools across Pennsylvania, according to Sen. Dave Argall (R-29), the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

“Schools across Pennsylvania are seeing spiking rates of absenteeism and mental health issues among their students,” said Argall. “We must take action to help students better succeed. Today’s testimony was valuable as the committee continues to consider how best to improve our schools.”

The first panel featured experts on the impacts of sleep loss on teenagers. Dr. Joanna Fong-Isariyawongse, MD, an Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Pittsburgh and Dr. Indira Gurubhagavatula, MD, MPH, a Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania both urged immediate legislative action to not allow schools to start before 8:30 a.m.

Their testimony cited research that teenagers require 8-10 hours of sleep a night and depriving them of that leads to poor academic performance, risk-taking behaviors, mental health issues, chronic physical health issues and higher risks of car accidents.

School officials, including representatives from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, the Pennsylvania School Bus Association (PSBA), and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), shared their concerns about the state mandating a later start time for all schools.

Aaron Sepkowski, the Vice President and Legislative Chair of PSBA, noted that a severe shortage of bus drivers still exists due to the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic put on this workforce. Making an additional, significant change to their schedule could worsen the shortage.

Dr. Shane Hotchkiss, the Superintendent of Bermudian Springs School District, advocated for this decision to be made locally and raised concerns about how later school start times would affect parents with young children who are employed.

Mark Byers, the Chief Operating Officer of the PIAA, noted that later school start times would jeopardize some events for student athletes, especially during the spring and fall when games are played outside and are reliant on daylight.

CONTACT: Jim Brugger, 717-787-2637

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