NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — New Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell is proposing pushing back the start time for Metro Nashville Public Schools’ (MNPS) high schools, where students begin class at 7:05 a.m.

That is about an hour earlier than the surrounding area and much of the country.

  • Williamson County: 7:40-7:50 a.m.
  • Sumner County: 8-8:15 a.m.
  • Rutherford County: 8:10-8:30 a.m.
  • Wilson County: 8:30 a.m. (one at 7:30 a.m.)

“Seven a.m. is too early and bad for both student performance and mental health,” said O’Connell in a statement.

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That statement is echoed by Lisa L. Lewis, an author and parenting journalist who helped change the school start time law in California.

Lewis noted sleep schedules are biologically different when you’re under 18 and students need between eight to 10 hours each night to be alert in the classroom, on sports teams, or behind the wheel driving to and from school; plus, to be able to be retain long-term information and have good mental health.

“This is such an important aspect to highlight because mental health has been a huge issue among teens, especially these last few years, and I don’t think that it can be overstated,” said Lewis. “When you are sleep deprived, it exacerbates depression, it exacerbates anxiety, it exacerbates suicidality.”

MNPS said its been studying the topic of start times and intends to review the issue further; however, officials said the focus right now has been on successfully implementing the fifth grade transition from middle school to elementary school, which is slated to be complete next school year.

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In his efforts, O’Connell said research has shown moving start times back an hour is proven to help performance levels and increased math scores by about three months of learning for a student.

While there are other challenges to overcome with a later start time, O’Connell said he’ll work with the district to address them.

“As mayor, I will partner with MNPS to solve transportation issues and other obstacles to move back those start times, so students get a better learning environment,” said O’Connell in a statement. “Not all high schoolers ride the bus to school, and we should make more public transit options available.”

“Moving start times later in Nashville absolutely will benefit the students,” said Lewis. “It will help graduation rates, it has public health implications, it’s going to help those student athletes across the board, it is the right thing to do. 7 a.m. is just far, far too early.”