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Suburban Sprawl Stole Your Kids' Sleep

Why does school start so early? Blame 1970s planning.
Buses may pick students up before sunrise because of early school start times.
Buses may pick students up before sunrise because of early school start times. Jim Young/Reuters

When Ameen Al-Dalli was a sophomore in high school in 2014, each weekday before sunrise he would walk the quiet, tree-lined streets of Fairfax, Virginia, to the school bus stop. Because Ameen’s public school, about five miles away, started at 7:20 a.m., the bus came early. “I feel drowsy and just like, ugh, I want to go home,” he told National Geographic filmmakers during his walk in the gloom.

This wasn’t always the case for high schoolers. A few generations ago, the bell rang around 9 a.m. for most American kids. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 75 percent of schools surveyed in more than 40 states for a 2015 report started before 8:30 a.m., with a significant number starting in the 7 a.m. hour.