Local school district asks for community input over possible change in school start times

BETHEL PARK, Pa. — The superintendent of an area school district is considering changing start times.

Parents and students within the Bethel Park School District, along with community members, were all sent a link today with a survey regarding school start times. It comes as research shows teenagers nationwide aren’t getting enough sleep.

“Everything I read, everything that’s been shared with the committee indicates there’s a lot of positive benefits to letting them sleep longer, both physically and cognitively,” said Dr. James Walsh, the superintendent of the Bethel Park School District.

Walsh said he’s been considering the move for years. A neighboring school, Upper St. Clair High School, moved its start time this year — giving high school students an extra half hour of sleep.

This survey is a big step forward, as Walsh says he isn’t the only superintendent looking at the research.

“I think it’s on everybody’s docket for consideration but we getting things moving more publicly than others,” Walsh said.

A professor at Pitt, Wendy Troxel, is a nationally renowned sleep scientist and calls teenagers’ lack of sleep a public health crisis.

“The Centers for Disease Control Prevention have found that only about one in 10 teenagers regularly achieve the optimal duration of sleep, which is around nine and a quarter hours,” Troxel said.

Like many schools across the nation, Bethel Park High School begins early — at 7:25 a.m. If a high school student wakes up at 6 a.m. to catch the bus for that start time, they’d need to be in bed by 9 p.m. to get the recommended nine hours of sleep.

“Having my son graduate last year, it would be much easier with him if he’d been able to sleep in a little bit later and not have to fight having to go to bed,” said mom Megan Nicholson.

An option the district is considering is swapping the start times of elementary school and high school students— so the younger children start earlier and the older students start later. Nicholson is in favor of that plan.

“They’re up earlier anyway, it would be much easier for them to start earlier than than the high school kids,” she said.

Bethel Park is eagerly awaiting the results of its survey.

“I would love em yesterday, but we are going to leave the survey open for three to four weeks,” Walsh said.

The start time change could go into effect as soon as 2026. Walsh said the biggest obstacle is getting enough school bus drivers.

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