Given the mounting research and evidence in support of later school start times for adolescents, doing nothing has become increasingly difficult to justify.


1. What is happening with start times in the fall of 2020?

The Joint School Committees approved a flip of current school start times, beginning in the fall of 2020.  While actual start times are still being finalized, with an effort to help get all of our kids the sleep they need, the elementary schools will start no earlier than 7:50 am (a flip and shift from the current 7:40 start at the middle school and high school) and the secondary schools will start no later than 8:35 am.

2. What was the process?

Given the science-related to this issue and the desire by many in the community to revisit the subject of school start times (first looked into in 2015), the Task Force looked at current scientific research as well as what other systems are doing in order to examine what might be in the best interests of Dover Sherborn students.  Over the course of the 2018-2019 academic year, the Start Time Task Force:

  • Conducted an extensive literature review regarding (x) sleep science relative to school-aged students and (y) school start time changes

  • Held extensive discussions with leaders at more than 12 MA school districts regarding start time change activities

  • Surveyed MA superintendents of districts that include middle schools or high schools regarding start time change activity

  • Surveyed DS elementary, middle, and high school families, staff and HS students (over 1,800 participants) and analyzed results, including several hundred comments (2019 Survey Results)

  • Conducted over 2 dozen stakeholder meetings and open coffees including 6 at elementary schools

  • Curated and updated school start time web page reflecting research and activities

  • Established dedicated email address for comments and questions (over 50 emails received)

  • Presented community cable channel Q&A

  • Produced and distributed student-created start time video clip

  • Attended 3 sleep expert presentations in other MA districts

  • Engaged in 1:1 discussions with 2 internationally-renown sleep experts

  • Attended MASC start time planning workshop

  • Met as group or in subgroups extensively

  • Presented in three Joint School Committee Meetings.

3. Will students really get more sleep? Won’t students just end up going to bed later? Isn’t it really about their electronic media habits?

There is abundant research that shows bedtimes generally stay constant, even sometimes move earlier, when wake times are later. According to research, students do get more sleep, and, equally important, their bedtimes and wake-times throughout the seven day week become more consistent, which adds to the benefit. The American Pediatric Association and over a dozen other medical and public health associations urge that high school start times be no earlier than 8:30.

Although adolescent sleep issues are multi-faceted, one factor is clear and immutable: the circadian rhythms at this age shift, so that adolescents begin to feel sleepy around 11:00. Removing their electronic devices after a predetermined hour may help them fall asleep faster, but not earlier. than their biologically-shifted circadian rhythm will allow.  

4. Why do this when our students and schools are already so successful?

Data shows that increased sleep for adolescents reduces anxiety and other emotional and mental health issues (including depression), reduces incidences of dangerous driving, reduces sports injuries, and reduces tardiness and absenteeism. Even the most successful schools share these concerns.

5. How will this impact our athletes?

In addition to the abovementioned reduction in injuries, additional sleep leads to improved performance across the board.

With regard to scheduling, as more and more schools in the area move to a later start times, scheduling issues will resolve themselves further. Some TVL and area schools have already made the change and competing schools have been able to accommodate them.  Many other TVL and area schools are presently considering making changes.

6. What about the after-school schedule? Won’t a change like this simply push everything later? How would my student manage multiple extracurriculars with this new schedule?

A change like this may force families to make further decisions about how much is too much, but we consider this to be healthy and appropriate. Balance is important in the lives of young people and changes like these allow us to model that we as a school system will step in if a structure of our own making is potentially hurting our students. Once the district has a plan in place, all stakeholders will work together to create other opportunities for our students to receive extra help. Once/If a model for change is approved, our before and after-school programming schedules will be re-visited to address a variety of interests and needs of our elementary and secondary students.


You’ve probably heard the buzz about reconsidering school start times to help our adolescent students get more sleep. The research is absolutely solid on the detrimental effects of insufficient and mis-timed sleep and early start times on adolescents. Documented effects include:

  • Physical health (obesity, risk of cardiovascular disease (hypertension) and metabolic dysfunction (type 2 diabetes);

  • Mental health (depression, suicidal ideation);

  • Academic failure;

  • Emotional dysregulation;

  • Executive function deficits;

  • Impulse control issues (alcohol consumption, substance use); and

  • Safety: DROWSY DRIVING, sports-related injuries, occupational injuries.

1. But what about our elementary school students?

The research on school start times for elementary school students is less robust (perhaps because despite the broad range of existing elementary school start times in the US, medical professionals have not identified chronic sleep deprivation as a public health crisis as they have with adolescent sleep deprivation), though anecdotal reports of earlier starts when districts “flip” schedules are positive.  

2. So, what do we know?

Elementary school students require 9 -11 hours of sleepAccording to Dr. Judith Owens (Director, Center for Pediatric Disorders, Boston Children’s Hospital and Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School), pre-adolescents are morning “larks” versus adolescents evening “owls”. During adolescence, circadian rhythms shift approximately two hours later and cannot be behaviorally altered. Through excellent sleep hygiene, pre-adolescent circadian rhythms can be shifted, so children continue to get the 9 - 11 hours they need for good health. (The ABSs of ZZZs:  The Impact of Sleep on Student Health and Performance presentation, Wayland High School, November 17, 2016)  Dr. Owens identifies a broad-range of between 7:30 AM and 9:00 AM as the “sweet-spot” for elementary school start times (The Science of Sleep and School Start Times presentation, North Middlesex Regional High School, April 2, 2019).

Dr. Eric Zhou (instructor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and attending Psychologist, Boston Children’s Hospital) posits, “For the elementary age group… it may be the case that [school] somewhere around 7:30, 8 o’clock in the morning is far more reasonable and aligned with their circadian rhythm naturally than for high school age children ”(Rath, What Earlier Start Times Mean for Young Brains,  WGBH News, February 1, 2018.

In the “flip scenario” under consideration in D-S, where the elementary school students start school earlier, the earliest bus pick up would be at 6:50, for a 7:50 start. Assuming a wake-up time of 6am for breakfast and getting ready, that means a bedtime of between 7pm - 9pm in order for students to get the 9-11 hours of sleep they need.

3. What does the research say?

The first study to look into the effects of a start time change in elementary school students found that a school start time change did not decrease the total amount of sleep students were getting. (“School start time changes and sleep patterns in elementary school students,” Sleep Health, 2015). Another 2015 study found “The association between school start time and elementary students’ academic achievement is small to non-existent, particularly when controlling for student demographic characteristics, grade, and school.” (Dupuis, “The Association Between Elementary School Start Time and Students’ Academic Achievement in Wayzata Public Schools” 2015).

Two studies from Kentucky complicate things. One study from Kentucky found that earlier start times negatively affected test scores and retention rates. (Keller, Earlier School Start Times as a Risk Factor for Poor School Performance: An Examination of Public Elementary Schools in the Commonwealth of Kentucky”, Journal of Educational Psychology, 2015). However, this study did not assess overall sleep duration. Another study found  higher rates of behavioral problems in elementary schools with earlier start times.(Keller, “Earlier school start times are associated with higher rates of behavioral problems in elementary schools”, Sleep Health, 2017).

Here, 6th graders, on the cusp of puberty, and the accompanying circadian shift, comprise ½ of the behavior incidents in the state report, so its findings don’t strictly apply to K-5 schools like Chickering and Pine Hill.

In Minneapolis, educators noted many benefits to a 7:40 earlier start, including increased energy and focus throughout the day, increased learning, fewer before school transitions, fewer behavior problems, and benefits especially for students with ADHD. (Wahlstrom, Elementary Feedback on Changed Start Times”, Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, 1998).

In Monomoy (Cape), pre-change, teachers indicated students are academically exhausted by 2:30. After change from 8:55 to 7:45, the superintendent cited a 45% decrease in discipline referrals, a significant decrease in nurse referrals, an increase in academic performance and decreased early dismissals (Dr. Scott Carpenter, The Debate Over Later School Start Times, Monomoy Regional School District).

4. But, won’t that mean my child will be waiting for the bus in the dark?

Presently the very earliest middle school and high school bus pickup in Dover and Sherborn is scheduled for 6:35 AM; although in conjunction with the start time changes,bus optimizations have been - and will continue to be sought It is presently anticipated that very first elementary school pickup in Dover and Sherborn would be no earlier than 7:00.

Civil twilight occurs approximately 30 minutes prior to sunrise when the sun is just below the horizon and is the brightest of the twilight phases. From and after civil twilight, there is generally enough light to carry out most outdoor activities, and many school systems schedule their busses to start no earlier than civil twilight.   On the latest-sunrise weekdays in the year (November 1 this year) Civil twilight starts at 6:48 and sunrise is 7:17, respectively 12 minutes before and 17 minutes after the anticipated earliest bus pickup time.  Some sources have cite earlier sunrise and civil twilight times, the foregoing times are from timeanddate.com (https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/usa/boston)

Anecdotally, most elementary bus stops either are in front of student homes or have one or more parents walking with children and present at the stop.

The following question is from Today’s Parent and answered by  Dr. Marc Weissbluth, Chicago Pediatrician and Children’s Sleep Specialist.

What about parents who come home late from work at night and want to see their children but can’t because of the early bedtime?

There are two ways to look at it. Here’s one example: Let’s say a child needs a bedtime, biologically speaking, and his or her circadian rhythm is approximately 6:30 or 7:30 p.m. – pretend that’s the case. And because of commute times, the mother comes home from work around 9 p.m., and the child is sleep deprived because the child is kept up too late. But the mother adjusts her schedule and can come home at 8 p.m. That’s the best she can do. Perhaps the child is still going to bed a little too late, but the reality is that 8 p.m. is better than 9 p.m.

We do the best we can in the real world to try to have the child go to bed as early as he or she needs to. Nothing’s perfect. Having said that, if the child can be put to bed early, the child should be put to bed early, and sometimes parents might have to make the decision to do so even if it means that they don’t get to see their child at night because of their work schedules, but they spend morning time with their baby and it’s warm, loving, friendly playing time, or time spent together as they feed the baby.

There’s no 11th commandment that says you have to put your baby to bed at night. But it’s important to have a well-rested family. And the benefits are enormous. There are parents who accept this and understand it and, as a result, will put their baby to bed when the child is getting drowsy. But the consequence is that they might not see the child at night Monday through Friday.

-- Dr. Marc Weissbluth

Learn more at our web site and send your questions and comments to: schoolstarttime@doversherborn.org.



1. What impact will this have on our Boston Students?

Boston students have always had to travel together on one bus to attend school at Dover Sherborn, which is not ideal.  It means that currently our elementary students arrive roughly 45 minutes before their non-Boston peers and wait 45 minutes before the start of school.  A flip scenario would mean the opposite, in that the secondary students would now arrive roughly 45 minutes earlier than their non-Boston peers (also not ideal).  Under a shift scenario, our Boston students would all be able to sleep later, regardless of grade level as all would be shifted to later start times. Regardless of whether the district moves start times or not, the issue of the one Boston bus run is problematic because some of our students are waiting idly for 45 minutes to start their school day in addition to there being only one K-12 bus run from Boston.  It is an issue that we hope to address as part of this process.

The Dover Sherborn Public Schools do not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, sex/gender, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or homelessness.

  • Dover-Sherborn Public Schools
  • 157 Farm Street, Dover, MA 02030
  • Phone (508) 785-0036
  • Fax (508) 785-2239
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