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It’s about time

All Red Wing students will head back to school a little earlier this year. Labor Day is the earliest it can be: Sept. 2. Red Wing’s middle and high school students this year also go back to school a little later … in the day, that is. The district pushed start times back 15 to 30 minutes to 8:10 a.m. for those schools.

That was a move in the right direction.

Ideally, the district should push that back another 20 minutes or more next year, based on a new American Academy of Pediatrics study released Monday. No adolescent should start school before 8:30 a.m. due to sleep deprivation and its negative effects, researchers said. The study published in Pediatrics, the academy’s official journal, calls insufficient sleep in adolescents a public health issue.

This is a parental issue, you say. True. But it’s also a societal and medical one. Lack of sleep contributes to poor academic performance, increased crashes due to driver fatigue, greater risk of obesity, higher rates of depression and diminished quality of life. Tired, irritable teens also adversely affect a school’s atmosphere. Since sleep impairs mood, memory, academics, attention and behavior control, the community should help ensure teens get more sleep.

“Although many changes over the course of adolescence can affect the quality and quantity of sleep, one of the most salient and, arguably, most malleable is that of school start times,” lead study author Dr. Judith Owens writes.

The answer isn’t as simple as going to bed earlier. The American Academy of Pediatrics study explains how the biological changes taking place inhibit teens from falling asleep before 11 p.m. Since teens need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep, they are best suited to waking at 8 a.m.

That suggests to us that 8:30 a.m. isn’t late enough. A more optimal start time is 9 a.m.

Yet the study found that roughly 43 percent of the nation’s public high schools start before 8 a.m. At least Red Wing is no longer one of them.

Barriers to school bells ringing after 8:30 a.m., researchers found, include curtailed time for after-school practices, difficulty in scheduling athletic contests and fewer hours for teen jobs.

Extracurricular activities played a role in Red Wing School Board’s decision on how to consolidate bus routes: Start middle and high school a little later while starting elementary schools 30 or 35 minutes earlier.

Red Wing Public Schools’ earlier start date this year is a fluke of the calendar. The later start time for the oldest students (and earlier time for younger students) was a deliberate decision.

We encourage the school leaders and parents to read the American Academy of Pediatrics study at, then assess mid-year how students of all ages do with the new start times and talk about it as a community.

Our initial reaction clicks with the website’s study link: Let Them Sleep.