Review Article| Volume 3, ISSUE 6, P486-497, December 2017

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Law-based arguments and messages to advocate for later school start time policies in the United States

  • Clark J. Lee
    Corresponding author at: University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security, 500 West Baltimore St, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA Tel.: +1 240 777 4569.
    Center for Health and Homeland Security; Center for Health Outcomes Research; University of Maryland, Baltimore; 500 West Baltimore St, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA

    Department of Behavioral and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, College Park, 4200 Valley Dr, College Park, MD 20742, USA
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  • Dennis M. Nolan
    Orange County Public Defender, Juvenile Court Office, 341 The City Drive South, Suite 307, Orange, CA 92868, USA
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  • Steven W. Lockley
    Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women's Hospital; Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School; 221 Longwood Ave, Boston, MA 021115, USA

    Monash Institute for Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences, School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University, Wellington Rd, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia
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  • Brent Pattison
    Joan and Lyle Middleton Center for Children's Rights, Drake Legal Clinic, Drake University Law School, 2400 University Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50311, USA
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Published:October 16, 2017DOI:


      The increasing scientific evidence that early school start times are harmful to the health and safety of teenagers has generated much recent debate about changing school start times policies for adolescent students. Although efforts to promote and implement such changes have proliferated in the United States in recent years, they have rarely been supported by law-based arguments and messages that leverage the existing legal infrastructure regulating public education and child welfare in the United States. Furthermore, the legal bases to support or resist such changes have not been explored in detail to date. This article provides an overview of how law-based arguments and messages can be constructed and applied to advocate for later school start time policies in US public secondary schools. The legal infrastructure impacting school start time policies in the United States is briefly reviewed, including descriptions of how government regulates education, what legal obligations school officials have concerning their students' welfare, and what laws and public policies currently exist that address adolescent sleep health and safety. On the basis of this legal infrastructure, some hypothetical examples of law-based arguments and messages that could be applied to various types of advocacy activities (eg, litigation, legislative and administrative advocacy, media and public outreach) to promote later school start times are discussed. Particular consideration is given to hypothetical arguments and messages aimed at emphasizing the consistency of later school start time policies with existing child welfare law and practices, legal responsibilities of school officials and governmental authorities, and societal values and norms.


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