Board to Revisit Later School Start Times

With six new members, Fairfax County board explores time shift for system schedule

Three years after the Fairfax County School Board voted against a schedule shift that would accommodate later high school start times, members will revisit the issue next week with a vote on a resolution to develop a system-wide goal of starting high schools after 8 a.m.

The resolution, scheduled to come before the board at its April 12 meeting, calls for the adoption of that goal but also directs Superintendent Jack Dale to identify and report on school divisions that have traditionally had and have transitioned to later morning start times, including neighboring Arlington and Loudoun counties along with Minneapolis, Minn; Wilton, Conn.; and Brevard, Fla.

Dale would present his findings to the board at a June 11 work session.

County buses pick up students in some areas as early as 5:45 a.m., and drop them off at high schools between 6:45 and 7 a.m. First period begins at 7:20 a.m.

In the past 14 years, two Fairfax County Public Schools Task Forces found in 1998 and 2008 respectively that moving the county's high school start times to later in the day would benefit students and the larger community, and recommended the school system find a way to do it.

Advocates have said  citing studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) that say adolescents need an average of nine hours of sleep per night for "optimal performance, health, and brain development."

The issue deeply divided the school board in 2009 when staff presented a single revenue-neutral plan that was unpopular among many parents and others in the school community who worried about the impact a schedule change would have on afterschool activities, transportation and start times for younger students.

But last fall's election attracted several candidates who offered their support for exploring ways to develop a "healthier" student, including revisiting the hour students arrive at school. Many of those candidates

"This is a new board  ... so this is a way of trying to get us on the record as saying we’re going to have this as a goal and give us some information about how jurisdictions have succeeded in this, how they have organized elementary, middle and high school schedules, how they have arranged buses and sports teams, and see if we can learn from their example,” said member Sandy Evans (Mason), who co-founded Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (SLEEP) in 2004 to advocate for later high school start times.

Evans, who was elected to board in a special election in March 2010 and won the Mason seat again in an uncontested race last November, said a major flaw of the last review process was the board only had one plan to work with and did not use the feedback it received to develop other options.

This board also has the benefit of more data, Evans said: The Fairfax County Youth Survey, administered to middle and high school students across the county, has asked about sleep habits for several years. It has found two-thirds of all respondents get on average seven or less hours of sleep a night. That means by the end of each week, many students have racked up 14 or more hours of "sleep debt."

"Having been able to quantify that, I think, will help guide us because we can now see very clearly what we're dealing with," Evans said. "We can start with a gauge."

The board will vote on the issue at its 7:30 p.m. meeting April 12 at Luther Jackson Middle School.

Sandra April 16, 2012 at 02:11 AM
John, I suspect that most high school teachers (especially honors or AP) think that rule is 2 hours of homework per class per night. :) Either that, or they are highly underestimating how long it takes to get the work done. Ninth grade World History and AP World History are particularly brutal, with pages and pages of written notes required. These are not research papers (which I actually think would be a good experience in preparing for college), but basically copying notes out of the texts (we're talking 10+ pages of handwritten notes per chapter, in order to get an A on an assignment). Parents of regular general ed classes tell me their kids have about a half hour of homework per night. I think honors and AP teachers think they need to pile on the homework in order to show how difficult their classes are. The ironic thing (as far as AP goes) is that in college most teachers didn't care if you came to class or did the homework, as long as you did well on the exams and turned in well-written papers.
Sandra April 16, 2012 at 02:18 AM
The problem of balance isn't completely based on student or parental expectations - it is being driven by colleges, who every year seem to require more to meet their entrance requirements. It used to be that you could take 1 or 2 AP classes and expect to get your application looked at - now I am hearing that you need 3-5 AP classes, plus outside activities (sports, music, drama, art), plus clubs, honor societies, etc. And every honor society and many clubs now require at least 15 hours of community service each (not to mention the FCPS requirement). It used to be that you had to take 3 years of a foreign language - then I heard 4 was better - now I'm being told 5 is what colleges like to see. If you want to get into a top Virginia university, you are forced to run the rat race.
Chy May 03, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Due to changes in circadian rhythms at the onset of puberty, adolescents are not able to fall asleep until 11:00pm or later. Science tells us that no matter how early you force your teen to go to bed, he or she can't actually fall asleep until 11 or 12. According to SCIENTIFIC evidence, the majority of Fairfax teens are getting 5.5-6.5 hours of sleep each night. Earlier bed times cannot physiologically change this. Only later start times can. 55% of all fatal fall-asleep traffic accidents are caused by people age 25 and younger. Forget grades and sports and let's focus on lives.
Lynn Wilson May 08, 2012 at 08:36 PM
I am an educator who retired after 32 years as teacher, literacy coach, curriculum director, and school improvement specialist, I regret to see that the district my grandchildren attend is ignoring current research. We are about educating children, our country's future. They should be the only thing that matters in this discussion and decision-making process
Sonia Baker June 19, 2012 at 09:44 AM
Can anyone please tell me how much money we will be spending on this study? I have 2 high school students and whether they start later or earlier will not impact them. This is the schedule they are given and they will do what is necessary to adapt. How can anyone support spending more money on this issue. They have the research and the knowledge if it is feasible-they need to make their decision one way or another. Both sides of this debate must demand that we not spend another cent on another study.


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