More than 75% of Baltimore’s students rely on public transportation to get to school. The public transportation in Baltimore is a system that frequently necessitates traveling via one to three buses with commute times that range from 30 minutes to two hours. Reflecting on our own high school experience, commuting required a two-bus journey, demanding an hour in total for us to reach school, notwithstanding inconsistent bus times that would often extend this duration.

Adhering to a 7:30 a.m. school start time often mandates students’ arrival at the bus stop by 6:30 a.m. or earlier. This forces students, as we have experienced, to awaken several hours prior to the start of the school day, thereby inevitably diminishing their sleep. Students who must take public transportation are already at a disadvantage in terms of sleep. Baltimore City Public Schools has not acted to address this concern.

Despite years of extensive research highlighting the adverse health outcomes of early school start times for adolescents, the school system policy has resulted in inappropriately early school start times for most middle and high school students. This decision evokes a profound sense of disappointment for many of the city’s young people.

During the spring semester of our junior year at Loyola University, Maryland, we were enrolled in a sleep, circadian rhythms and behavior course with Professor Amy Wolfson, a nationally known sleep researcher. In this course, we learned about how short sleep duration and irregular sleep patterns negatively affect behavior, cognition and physical and mental health. Serious implications arise from not understanding how early school start times affect adolescent health.

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For example, parents and other adults often believe the myth that waking up late in the morning is due to laziness as opposed to understanding that adolescents experience a delay in the timing of their biological clocks. As a result, early school start times mean that teens are asked to start school at a time that is misaligned with their biological clock, leading to social jet lag, excessive daytime sleepiness and consequences including poor academic performance and mental health challenges.

The 24.2-hour circadian clock acts to regulate sleep cycles, but adolescents still need a minimum of about nine hours of sleep. Therefore, waking up at 6 a.m. does not align with adolescents’ circadian rhythms.

Upon hearing that Baltimore City College High School would continue to start the school day at 7:30 a.m. this fall, these were Bendu Kaba’s observations: “I became alarmed and concerned for my younger sister, who is a current freshman. Since the start of school, my sister has complained about her fatigue and the difficult transition to an earlier school start time and longer commute. I have witnessed her decreased energy at the end of her day, her difficulty in waking up and her inability to focus on homework.”

We are calling for an immediate resolution to these early school start times. With at least 30 years of research, there should be no hesitation in establishing later school start times for middle and high schools to no earlier than 8 or 8:30 a.m. as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and numerous other health and education professional associations.

This is a public health concern, and we urge city leaders and school officials to act on this social justice issue so that all young people in Baltimore can function at their best throughout middle and high school.

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Bendu Kaba and Victoria Louis are seniors at Loyola University, Maryland. Kaba is studying interdisciplinary psychology and sociology, and Louis is a psychology major and sociology and forensic science double minor.

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