Resolution considering later high school start times passes Legislature, heads to Governor’s office

Snow Canyon High School, St. George, Utah, Jan. 23, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A resolution urging school districts, charter schools and school community councils to consider the benefits and consequences of starting high school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. is on its way to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s office for signing.

Designated HCR003 in the 2020 Utah Legislature, the resolution sponsored by Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Sandy, encourages local stakeholders – school districts, public charter schools, school administrators, teachers and parents – to consider the science and benefits of later start times for high schools.

The Utah Senate voted 22-1-6 Friday to approve the resolution, with all Southern Utah senators voting in favor, except Sen. Ralph Okerlund, who was marked among the six senators “absent or not voting.” The resolution now moves to Herbert, who has already lent his support for it.

“Governor Herbert had already offered his support of the resolution before we began the process, and I look forward to him signing the resolution to make it official,” Harrison said in an email to St. George News.

Over a dozen medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. in order to allow adolescents to get the proper amount of sleep, Harrison said in a previous St. George News report.

“As a mom of two teenagers, this issue has come front and center in our family,” Harrison said in her email. “Anyone who has teens knows it is difficult to wake them up early in the morning. But they aren’t lazy – they are in a unique developmental period. They are undergoing a host of biological changes, including brain development and sleep changes.”

Among the things that families can do on their own in their home to help adolescents get enough sleep, such as implementing regular bedtimes and removing distracting electronic devices from bedrooms, Harrison said looking at later start times for high school and even middle school is another way that studies have shown to be effective in addressing the issue.

It is an important policy discussion to have, she said, adding that school districts across the country that have implemented later start times have seen huge payoffs.

“Those districts that have made the start time change have studied the impacts and found that kids did in fact get more sleep, had improved mental health (decreased feelings of depression and anxiety), improved grades and standardized test scores (even more so for disadvantaged students), improved attendance, decreased incidence of car accidents, and a host of other benefits,” Harrison said in her email.

Since HCR003 is a resolution and not a bill, it will not mandate any policy changes, but Harrison hopes it will bring the conversation around high school start times to the forefront for districts across the state.

“I hope this resolution will encourage conversations at the local school district and community level to help families and communities better understand the sleep science and have a local discussion about how to help our kids be as mentally and physically healthy and academically successful as possible,” Harrison said.

Harrison said that she is thrilled her colleagues are in support of conversations and seeking innovative ideas to increase the health of Utah’s teen students.

Previous to the resolution’s passage in the Senate, HCR003 passed the Utah House by a vote of 51-20-4. Southern Utah Reps. Rex Shipp and Lowry Snow voted in favor, while Reps. Walt Brooks, Phil Lyman, Merrill Nelson and Travis Seegmiller were opposed. Rep. Brad Last was marked as “absent or not voting.”

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2020 Utah Legislature here.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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