Students at Southern Lehigh High School should not have to start school until 8:45 a.m. so they can get more sleep, a high school freshman told the school board Monday night.

Fourteen-year-old Alexandra Curtis argued that allowing sleep-deprived high school students start more than an hour later would improve their grades – including SAT scores -- and much more.

She maintains getting more sleep reduces drop-out rates, fights, car accidents, substance abuse, even depression and suicidal thoughts among teens.

“Researchers have found that most students earned higher grades in classes that started later in the day, because the students were more alert,” she told the school board.

She also said student athletes perform better, with improved coordination and endurance, if they get more sleep.

Alexandra recommended Southern Lehigh School District should reverse its daily schedules, so both middle and high school students start school at 8:45 a.m., but elementary and intermediate students begin at 7:40 a.m.

The district’s elementary and intermediate schools are for kindergarten through 6th grade students, the middle school is for 7th and 8th graders and the high school is for 9th through 12th graders.

Alexandra said younger children are more likely to wake up earlier.

Alexandria Curtis

Because they barely have any homework, she argued, it’s also easier for them to go to bed earlier. She added there would be a benefit for working parents: they might not have to pay for morning day care if their children start school earlier.

“The results are clear,” Alexandra told the board. “Southern Lehigh should follow in the footsteps of schools from 41 different states by switching the high school and middle school start time with the elementary and intermediate schools.

“This will benefit Southern Lehigh students and families by increasing their success in school and sports and by improving their safety.”

While school board members and district administrators were less than enthusiastic in their immediate response to her proposal, Alexandra was not discouraged.

She said the board’s response was “about what I expected. I realize this is not something that would happen right away.” In fact, she predicted it might take years to get the board’s support.

Beverly and Andrew Curtis, Alexandra’s parents, and her younger brother Drew attended the school board meeting to support her.

"I really hope the school board takes her suggestion seriously, and looks at the effects of insufficient sleep and the feasibility of a later start time," said her mom after the meeting.

Alexandra said teenagers needs 9-10 hours of sleep every night, but the average high school senior only sleeps 6.5 hours.

“I definitely do not get enough sleep,” she admitted after the board meeting. She said high school starts at 7:40 a.m. and her school bus arrives at 6:58 a.m.

She typically gets seven hours of sleep a night “unless I have a lot of homework and tests, in which case it can be six or even five hours.”

Alexandra cited several studies to back up her conclusions, including research done by Columbia University, Brookings Institution and the National Sleep Foundation.

After the student’s presentation, school board president Corinne Gunkle said district superintendent Leah Christman already had circulated one of those studies to the school board.

Gunkle also noted Quakertown Community School District plans to do the
opposite: its high school students will start school earlier because too many student athletes were leaving school early for sports and losing too much classroom instructional time.

Southern Lehigh’s superintendent said there has not been any discussion about changing school start times by her district’s administrators.

Gunkle suggested issues raised by Alexandra be referred to the board’s education committee to look into, but it was not clear that is going to happen.

“This is a non-starter for one school to do in isolation,” said school board member Thomas McLoughlin, who serves on that education committee.

McLoughlin said “at a minimum” it has to be done by all schools participating in the same athletic league.