- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2015


The feds are at it again, donning their nanny uniforms. They do it far too often, telling us what to eat, which light bulbs to use and, for all practical purposes, outlawing top-loading washing machines.

You get the picture. Add school start times to the list.

The problem with early start times — i.e., classes that begin earlier than 8:30 or 9 a.m. — is that kids aren’t getting sufficient sleep, so schools should start later, a new government report says.

Also, adolescents who get too little sleep don’t perform as well in school and are more likely to have health problems and indulge in risky behavior down the road, the report says.

But picture this: Are you 100-percent certain your tweens and teens will make it to school after you’ve left home for your morning commute an hour or more ahead of them? Will they even wake up on time following a more restful night if you’re not there to prod them?

The feds might think their wake-up call is sound health, education and welfare policy government. Good parents and states’ right folks know better.

Before I launch into the particulars of the feds’ bright idea, check out my news flash: If your kids attend schools in D.C. or Maryland, there is no data available from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which on Thursday released a new report, “School Start Times for Middle School and High School Students — United States, 201112 School Year.”

Alaska, Hawaii and the other Lower 48 states submitted sufficient data, which covered tweens and teens attending public schools. Maryland and D.C. seem to have had a problem delivering adequate and comparable details. I bet D.C. can count (on) those federal dollars though.

In the interim, let’s start at the beginning of the CDC study:

1) Less than one-third of U.S. high school students sleeps at least 8 hours on school nights. I say that’s not because “only 17.7% of these public schools started school at 8:30 a.m. or later.” I say it’s because they actually go to sleep too late.

2) “Obtaining adequate sleep is important for achieving optimal health,” the CDC says. Well, duh. A grandparent, I figured that out on only 5.5 hours of sleep.

3) “Groups seeking to delay school start times in their district often face resistance. Common barriers to delaying school start times include concerns about increased transportation costs because of changes in bus schedules; potential for traffic congestion for students and faculty; difficulty in scheduling after-school activities,” among other things, the report says. Well, let’s see. Schools feed low-income kids breakfast — before classes start. Schools feed kids after-school meals — after the last school bell rings. Schools hold a variety of athletic and after-school activities and programs, including tutoring and detention, and debate club, math club, glee club, chess club and the like — after that last bell rings. Sports games are after school — as any parent knows and didn’t need the feds to say so.

4) “[A]dolescents with parent-set bedtimes usually get more sleep than those whose parents do not set bedtimes.” So because some parents don’t parent, we should put that responsibility in the hands of bureaucrats in Washington — bureaucrats who couldn’t even elicit the necessary data from education officials who practically work side by side with them in the same city?

5) “Adolescent sleep habits tend to reflect their parents’ sleep habits.” I love that one, because it reflects bureaucratic ignorance. That is to say, the federal government’s take is that we are still a 9-to-5 society, a former cultural norm we kicked to the curb long before Bill Clinton began wagging his finger about Monica Lewinsky. By the time Hillary Rodham Clinton knew with certainty that she and Bill would become a grandpa and grandma, flextime, 24-7 operations and telecommute had become union contract staples.

Federal bureaucrats do their damnedest to hold onto their jobs, and I hold nothing against them for doing so. But just because they decided to follow up their initial study on school start times and children’s health doesn’t mean we need to start pushing buttons that are better left untouched.

If kids are indeed not getting enough sleep, it is not because classes start too early in the morning; it is because kids aren’t going to sleep early enough.

Any parent, whether they set an example or not, can put a child — any age child — to bed, and tell tweens and teens to “go to bed.” But going to bed and sleeping are not the same. Indeed, you cannot make anyone go to sleep.

Sure, parents can implement “media curfews” by shutting down computers, TVs, smartphones, e-readers, video games, etc.

Forcing a child to go to sleep is an entirely different issue.

Don’t let the feds convince you otherwise.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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