Winnipeg School Division surveys parents about later start time for high school students

Think you would have done better in high school with a little more sleep?

Division considers letting teenage students sleep in

An online survey is asking parents of students in the Winnipeg School Division to weigh in on the idea of having a later start time for the division's high school students. (Getty Images/Image Source)

Think you would have done better in high school with a little more sleep?

The Winnipeg School Division is asking parents to weigh in on a proposal that could see high school students in the division given a little more pillow time in the morning.

An online survey set to go live on the division's website starting Monday is looking for feedback on the idea of instituting later start times for teenage students attending high school. 

"There's no decision, no policy changes have been made, or anything like that. We're just surveying parents to get their thoughts on whether or not they think that would be helpful," explains Winnipeg School Division Board of Trustees vice-chair and Ward 4 trustee, Lisa Naylor.

"We want to hear from parents and we want to look at the research and get a better picture before any policy decisions would be made."

Research into brain development

Last year, trustees approved a motion to research the impacts that a later start time could have on students, staff and parents.

Former Ward 6 trustee Cathy Collins told CBC News at the time that she brought the idea to the board after hearing about research showing high school students aren't getting enough sleep, impacting their capacity to learn.

"There's more interest now in brain development, so that's where this research comes from," she said at the time. 

"I've heard this discussion on and off over the years, and I thought, maybe it was time to talk about it as a way to improve their learning."

The push for later start times is relatively new in Canada, but follows a wave of international research suggesting that high school students naturally sleep differently than adults and younger children — falling asleep and waking up later than others — and that teens perform better when given extra time in the morning to sleep.

Numerous studies in the United States and Europe have found evidence of pervasive sleep deprivation among teens, which has been linked to challenges in academic performance to obesity and mental illness.

In 2016, a team of researchers from McGill University published a report in the Journal of Sleep Research, suggesting that study participants aged 10 to 18 get an additional three minutes of sleep for every 10-minute delay in their school start time, bringing the school day more in line with their biological clocks.

'Lots of things to consider'

Currently the start time for high school students in the WSD varies between the division's schools, but it's usually between 8:15 a.m. and 9 a.m., says Naylor.

She said it's too soon to say how much later students would start if changes are made, but a list of advantages and disadvantages included with the online survey suggests the later start time could be 10 a.m.

Some of the disadvantages included in that list include the administrative and operational pressures of scheduling resources like buses, sports practices, after-school tutoring and other extracurricular activities around staggered school start times.

 The division also wants to know how disruptive the idea would be for households where adults work traditional hours.

"There's lots of things to consider," said Naylor. "This is really preliminary and we're doing our due diligence."

The survey will remain online until the end of May and Naylor says trustees will discuss the idea further once the division's administration sends a report on the findings back to the board.

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With files from The Canadian Press and Cameron MacLean