High schoolers could get earlier start in Hillsborough

- How early is too early for high school kids to start class in the morning? The answer depends on who you ask.

The Hillsborough School District is looking at a plan that would start high school classes at 7:15.

"Most people my age get to bed at midnight or 1 a.m.," explained Aleena Ruscella, a junior at Sickles High School, "and we have to wake up at 6 and catch the bus."

Some of them land in the doctor's office.

"This is just a recipe for disaster for these teenagers," offered Dr. Marcy Solomon Baker, a Tampa pediatrician.

Baker cites a 2014 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics which found that teens should get between eight-and-a-half and nine-and-a-half hours of sleep nightly, and high school classes should start at 8:30 a.m. or later. The study says teens who regularly get less sleep increase their risks.

"It can cause learning problems, it can cause an increase in car accidents, it causes depression, it's involved in all these conditions that teenagers come in here with," continued Baker.

Wednesday at Sickles High, the school district took input from students on a proposal that would start high school classes at 7:15 a.m., rather the current 7:33 a.m. Class periods would be shortened from 50 to 48 minutes, and school would end just after 2 p.m.

Sickles student Connor Mateer said it would get him to baseball practice sooner.

"I could get home at 5:30. That's an extra hour for me to eat, shower, and get an extra hour of homework done so I'm not staying up until 12 or 1 in the morning," Mateer said.

District officials say the new schedule would also give teachers an extra 50 minutes a day for student conferences and planning. 

In Wednesday's session, the students voted in favor of the proposal for school to start and end sooner.

"I really felt the kids are going to see it as a benefit," said Sickles principal Jake Russell. "It's extra time for homework, get to class earlier, all those things are good things."

Parents and teachers will be invited to provide input before any vote by the school board.  The district has set up the email account bellschedule@sdhc.k12.fl.us to take feedback, and Superintendent Jeff Eakins explained his thoughts in this video.

If the plan is approved, it would start in the 2017-18 school year.

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