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BRAC findings show lack of sleep plaguing Capital Region schools, proposed later start times

3 months 1 week 3 days ago Monday, April 08 2024 Apr 8, 2024 April 08, 2024 8:05 PM April 08, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - Alarm clocks could be set back a little later in the morning for some students and parents, if a bill is passed.

Mia Holliday's alarm goes off every weekday morning at 4:45 a.m. She gets out of bed before her two sons, who attend East Baton Rouge Parish public schools, to wake them up around 5 a.m. The bus picks up one of her sons around 5:32 a.m., the other eight minutes later. Their school days start at 7 a.m. and 7:15 a.m. 

If House Bill 725 is passed during the regular legislative session, all public middle schools in the state would start no earlier than 8 a.m. and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

"It would just give them an hour more rest," Holliday said. "It would just be greater for me cause I wouldn't have to get up and make sure they're up on time, and I just think they would be better rested."

On Monday, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber released research findings showing that chronic absenteeism plagues the Capitol Region. About 41 percent of students were truant in 2023, and about 21 percent of students were chronically absent, missing at least 15 days of school. BRAC found that at the core of the problem is lack of sleep imbedded within middle schoolers' and high schoolers' lives.

Joseph Aucoin, a sixth grader at Westside Junior High in Walker, said it's not uncommon for his classmates to fall asleep in class — often during the first couple hours of the day exhausted from not getting proper rest.

"I feel like they would actually not sleep throughout the day," Aucoin said, responding to how his classmates would react to an extra hours worth of sleep each night.

Holliday rushed to the Highland Road Park Observatory Monday to purchase herself and her two sons glasses to catch the eclipse. One of her sons, a freshman, was in class. Her other son, a senior, accompanied his mother to the observatory because he missed the bus this morning around 5:32 a.m.

"Everyone (would) be well rested if school started at a later time," Holliday said. "I think school just starts extremely too early, 5 o'clock is too early to get up. You're catching a bus at 5:30, it's still dark outside."

BRAC's findings align with other research that shows juvenile crime rates could decrease if schools start later. Later end times, according to studies, coincide with fewer idle hours in the late afternoon, resulting in less crime.

"I believe if school started later, I believe more kids would be at school," Holliday said. "And I do believe the crime rate would be down, and I think that's something we would all like to see, especially here in Baton Rouge."

McKinley High School senior Soren Carter is in class by 7:15 a.m. each morning, attending his precalculus class. If he had a few more hours of sleep each night, he believes digesting concepts like trigonometry would be a little kinder on the brain.

"Trying to get up that early when I'm still foggy in the head and trying to listen to a teacher try to teach me about trigonometry or something is kind of stressful," Carter said. "We'll have tests that early in the morning, too, and I'm not fully prepared for it because I'm not trained to wake up that early."

Carter said that while some could argue he should be trained to wake up that early, he doesn't believe it's right. The senior believes that those who would oppose the bill and the change to schools' start times probably have a problem with dismantling order.

"Maybe they feel like it brings down order," Carter said. "Maybe they feel like people in high school should become accustomed to waking up early in the morning and training themselves to be morning people."

Holliday doesn't disagree, believing that if someone opposes the potential change in start times, they probably have nothing to do with a student and aren't a parent themselves.

"If their kid (is) having the proper rest, why not?," Holliday questioned to those who would oppose.

If passed, House Bill 725 would go into affect for the 2026-27 school year, but that's a little too late for seniors like Carter, who at one point questioned his potential success because of the tall order from schools to wake up to early alarm clocks before dawn.

"High school was already tough, and even middle school," Carter said. "I used to wake up, cause middle school for me started at 7:45, so I used to wake up pretty early for that, too. And I always felt like maybe I'm not going to be successful if this is how life is."

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