To sleep in or not to sleep in: debate over late start proposal

With an emphasis on sleep, admin hopes to reduce stress with weekly late starts


The New Trier School Board is planning to vote this month on implementing a 75-minute late start once a week in the 2019-2020 school year to ease stress on students and allow them to be more well-rested.

The “late start Wednesdays,” which would allow students to start at 9:30 am at Winnetka and 9:10 am at Northfield, caused debate at the School Board on Oct. 16.

Members questioned whether the new schedule would decrease valuable instruction time and have asked Superintendent Paul Sally to get more feedback from the community.

Being at such a competitive school, students often push themselves with classes and activities. Because of the pressure of these responsibilities, sleep is a concern, which health classes emphasize.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night are crucial in order for teens to function best, yet a study found that only 15% of students reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours nightly.

“About 75% of New Trier students get less than 8 hours of sleep every night, so we know it’s a huge issue,” stated health teacher Andrew Horne. “Sleep is the foundation of everything that we need to be fully functional, healthy human beings, let alone good students. And so the fact that 75% of our students are working below the baseline to be the best student they can be is troubling.”

Sophomore Abby Finch weighed in on why students work below the baseline, “I think students at New Trier believe that finishing homework very late makes them more successful.”

Senior Maddie Malueg supports the late start. “I think it’s a really nice way to break up the week and it would let kids make sure they get at least one decent night of sleep and that would really help.”

Sophomore Susie Shaker added, “I think it will allow us to be more awake for school and help us pay attention. It would allow us to balance our sleep schedule if we stayed up late the night before.”

Horne believes it’s more than just about sleep and anxiety. He thinks NT should take into account academic load, homework, and extracurriculars.

“You have to think about how late teens practice and maybe if they’re taking an early bird class. You have to think about the schedule of students and what they can actually fit in a 24-hour period and still have those 8 hours of non-negotiable sleep,” stated Horne.

Junior Mekah Brown, like many students, believes the school just needs to cut back on homework.

In the FAQs section of an email sent to parents, the administration wrote, “The school is continually reviewing the role of homework to ensure that it is meaningful to student learning and reasonable in the amount of time it demands from students. The school has phased in homework-free breaks over the past several years, and the 2019-2020 calendar will explicitly name these days for students and parents.”

While a weekly late arrival was presented last week, there are still many details and logistics to be worked out, such as shuttle bus and Early Bird schedules.

The most popular issue among the school board, according to Assistant Principal for Administrative Services Michael Lee, is the concern over loss of instructional time.

“You go from a 40 minute schedule to about a 33 minute schedule,” Lee said. “That is time lost in the day where you compare that to our current schedule right now. We did a study where it only comes out to be 1 and a half classes [lost] per semester.”

Junior BJ Moses-Rosenthal is concerned that the late starts will increase homework.

“The late arrival would give teachers an excuse to assign more work because I know a lot of teachers complain there isn’t enough time in a day,” said Moses-Rosenthal.

In the email to parents, Sally wrote, “Our teachers have experience with shortened periods at times during each year, and they have the tools to develop effective lesson plans for that amount of time. We believe the benefits for students in both stress management and more collaboration among their teachers will make up for the time spent out of the classroom.”

The plan for Early Bird depends on the class. Science classes will meet at 7:00 am on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Early Bird music and KW classes will meet at the current times with the substitution of Wednesday as the day off.

The administration is working with Metra and Pace to optimize the schedules for students on Wednesdays. More information with respect to the late arrival will be released within the next few weeks.

As the School Board plans to vote on Nov. 19 on whether weekly late arrivals should be added to the 2019-2020 calendar, Sally wrote that the proposal, which aims to give students and staff additional time to manage homework, sleep, and other aspects of their lives, “represents the culmination of a process that began several years ago.”