By Lisa Van Buskirk
The author is Maryland and Anne Arundel County Chapter Leader of Start School Later, a national nonprofit advocacy group.
On Tuesday, the Maryland House Health and Government Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on HB0126 sponsored by Del. Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s), who is reportedly seeking to bring Maryland to permanent daylight saving time (DST). The caveat to this legislation is that neighboring states must also pass similar legislation, and the federal government must also change its laws to allow permanent DST. In Congress, Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin (D) is a co-sponsor of HR-69, the Sunshine Protection Act, which would bring the country to permanent daylight saving time.
If this sounds familiar to those living in the 1970s, it’s because the entire nation switched to permanent daylight saving time on January 6, 1974. By the end of January 1974, there were already calls for repeal legislation due to many children and adults. deaths and near misses blamed on early morning winter darkness. In October 1974, Congress returned the nation to a combination of standard time and daylight saving time because permanent daylight saving time was a failed policy.
Under permanent daylight saving time, yes, we would have an “extra” hour of daylight in the evening from November to March, but this would come at the cost of very late sunrises. The last sunrises of the year in Maryland occur in December and January, around 8:25-8:39 a.m. depending on where you are in the state, under permanent daylight saving time. Civil dawn, the 30 minutes or so before sunrise, when it is bright enough to see without artificial light, would therefore begin around 8 a.m.
Our circadian rhythm is regulated by sunrise, not sunset. A permanent delay in sunrise time would put us all in a perpetual “social jet lag”, which would be more noticeable in winter. This would affect our physical and emotional health and well-being, but would be particularly exacerbated for adolescents, who already experience a well-documented delay in sleep and wake times. Permanent daylight saving time, combined with the current too-early school start times, would have an even greater negative impact on adolescents’ circadian rhythm, safety, health and studies.
In 1974, Anne Arundel County Public Schools and Baltimore County Public Schools delayed all school start times by 30 minutes, due to parental complaints of students in the morning dark and some “near-misses” for student pedestrians. Forty-eight years later, schools in Maryland are starting even earlier. The average middle school start time is now 8:11 a.m. and the average high school start time is 7:54 a.m. Both levels have schools starting as early as 7:00 am. Most elementary schools in Maryland start later in the morning, but there are elementary schools that start as early as 7:30 a.m. Under permanent daylight saving time, nearly all middle and high schools, as well as a good number of Elementary schools would start before sunrise and civil dawn.
Many students in Maryland take the bus for almost an hour, in addition to having to be at the bus stop 10 minutes early and arriving at their school 15 to 30 minutes before the bell. We need to consider the impact of permanent DST on their safety during their night commutes before their school start time before sunrise. That’s why “the National PTA opposes daylight saving time during the winter months because of the safety factor.”
When Massachusetts studied permanent DST in 2017, their report made two caveats to implementing what they called Atlantic Time; community education and later school start times. As the Massachusetts report acknowledges, “one way to avoid the year-round inconvenience of DST for school-aged children would be to delay the start of the school year until there is enough daylight to travel safely”.
This will be the third year that I have testified against permanent daylight saving time, unless it is changed to accommodate school start times or changed to permanent standard time. Last year’s housekeeping bill (HB1013) passed the House, but was withheld by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee (as was the Senate version of the bill). , SB0840, sponsored by Senator Justin Ready). The Senate committee wanted more information from the community regarding the impact of late sunrises.
Anne Arundel County Public Schools submitted written testimony in opposition to permanent DST, due to the negative impact on school hours and student safety. Could other school systems and other community groups join this year? I encourage all readers to contact their state delegates and senators regarding the impact of sunrise to 8:39 a.m. and HB0126, and their congressional representatives and senators regarding HR-69.