Local Doctor Fighting for Later School Start Time in Okaloosa County

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Can a couple of extra hours of sleep really increase attendance, graduation rates, and test scores in area high schools? One pediatrician seems to think so, and she's urging school board members in Okaloosa County to push back the school start time.

We all know the importance of sleep-- but are your teenagers getting enough of it?

“The sleep required for a healthy adolescent is 8-9 hours, so let's look at a 10pm bedtime-- so awakening at 6:30 or 7am is where we would be” says local pediatrician, Dr. Lynn Keefe.

But with a 7am start time for most high schools in Okaloosa County, it puts students on the bus before the crack of dawn. The early school start time poses the risk of sleep deprivation leading to both academic and behavioral problems.

“We have links with depression, low motivation, not doing well or feeling good about themselves, and you have trends towards drug use. You have trends towards, 'well I feel sleepy so I’m going to take an energy pill or a nicotine dip" says Dr. Keefe.

A petition is circulating through the medical community pushing for a later school start time throughout the area high schools--but for that to happen, it would change the start time of the elementary and middle schools, which start their day between 7am-and-9am.

Okaloosa School Superintendent Dr. Alexis Tibbets says she is working with Dr. Keefe.

"There may be a compromise at some time if we can find a way for students in our school district to start school between 7:30-9:00am. To completely flip-flop and have our youngest and most vulnerable children in school at 6:55 to start class at 7am, while our older students sleep later is not a recommendation we're willing to put before the board right now."

The Superintendent says the school board will gladly look into cost-neutral ways to assess the issue, but doesn't foresee that happening by next school year.

In a recent poll, 60%-of parents and students at Niceville High School voted to keep the early start time.

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