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Okaloosa County school start times
OKALOOSA COUNTY -- OKALOOSA COUNTY - The debate over how early high school students should hit the classroom could be moving to the Florida legislature. Earlier this month, the US Secretary of Education said high school students could benefit from later start times. Now, State Representative Matt Gaetz says he'll propose legislation to make sure no high school in Florida starts earlier than 8 a-m.
Laura Hussey "Some students here at Choctawhatchee High catch their school bus at 6AM. In Crestview and Destin, there are bus pickups at 5:45. That's not the alarm clock, that's the bus"
Research from groups like the National Institutes of Health and the National Sleep Foundation says early start times are a factor in sleep deprivation.....leading to lack of focus and inability to retain information....in short, to poor learning.
High school senior Melissa Lamberth says, "Students I do see fall asleep during school, teachers teaching...teacher gets upset cause students not grasping what they're supposed to learn that day, what they're supposed to understand"
Pediatrician Dr. Lynn Keefe sees that and more in her practice.
Dr. Keefe says, "They start to have health problems. They don't recover from their illnesses. The common cold becomes a five-week sinusitis infection"
Keefe is a co-founder of a national organization called Start School Later.
Parents like Vanessa LeMenager say early high school starts are a mismatch with teens' biological clocks.
LeMenager says, "The little ones are up and ready to go, crack of dawn. the teenagers, it's like getting a lead sled out of the bed. It's just....we've got it the wrong way around"
These Choctaw students say sleeping in would be nice, but a later day would also create problems.
Student Kayla Reichenbach says, "People have sports and a job after school, so it takes its toll on that."
Okaloosa Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson says she believes later start times are the healthiest choice. But the district can't do it with the number of buses they have. She says it would take ten more, at a cost of a hundred thousand dollars each.
Laura Hussey "Dr. Keefe continues to meet with the district Transportation staff and others, to try to get high schools a later start times."
We asked representative Matt Gaetz about some of the challenges school districts have in switching to later start times. He says it's possible the legislature could provide "bridge funding" to help districts with the start-up cost. But he says, many school districts, including Santa Rosa County, have switched to later start times without a major financial burden. Gaetz says the change is needed, regardless of the cost.
Rep. Matt Gaetz/(R) Fort Walton Beach says, "It's preposterous for any school district to say well yes, we know we have children in the classroom that can't reach their potential and can't retain information, but because we can't get the bus schedule right, we're just going to keep things how they are "Gaetz says making sure students succeed is important to Florida's economic future.