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PatchChat Live: A Later School Start Time

At noon Friday, join School Board Member Sandy Evans and Phyllis Payne, founders of SLEEP, to talk about sleep and rethinking school day structure

Teens need about nine hours of sleep per night for good health, focus, energy and academic performance — but on average, middle and high school students in Fairfax County are getting seven hours a sleep of night or less.

The results of the county's recent Youth Risk Survey indicate to founders and members of the advocacy group Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (SLEEP) that while they've made progress in teaching parents and students about the importance of the issue, a sleep deficit still exists for many students, they said.

"Different children have different needs, but all children need sleep," wrote Phyllis Payne, who started SLEEP along with Evans in 2004, in an email to school board members last month.

At noon Friday, join School Board Member Sandy Evans (Mason) and Payne to talk about the history of the local and national movement, and other strategies the school board is exploring to give students more flexibility over their school day.

Friday also falls toward the end of National Sleep Awareness Week, an annual public education and awareness campaign run by the National Sleep Foundation.

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 so.

Out of those task forces came a cost-neutral plan to push back start times, which the board considered in 2009. But the concerns from other parts of the community about schedule changes being too disruptive mad the board pause — it didn't move forward with a decision.

"In my view, dealing with unhealthy high school start times remains a priority for teen health, wellness and performance and must be addressed," Evans said.

She introduced an idea at a board work session last month that would allow teens to opt out of their first classes and begin school at the start of the second period, if they could make up the credit in other ways, via online courses or dual enrolment at a community college.

But "the larger issue affecting tens of thousands of teen students remains," Evans said. 

Fairfax SLEEP joined other sleep movements across the country in signing a petition promoting legislation that would ban schools from starting before 8 a.m. The petition is looking for 7,500 signatures before it is sent to Congress and President Barack Obama; as of Wednesday night, it had 5,071.

Join us at noon Friday for a live chat about the issue; revisit this page or sign up for an email reminder in the box above. Can't make the chat? Leave questions in the comments or sent them to erica.hendry at patch.com.

To read more on the sleep issue, click here.

Previous Live Chats:

diana bork March 12, 2012 at 06:31 PM
By the way, these "extra credit" trips are what we used to call "field trips". Presumably there is no longer sufficient funds for field trips. So now the parents have to help the child do the trip if they want the child to gave the option of receiving the extra credit.
Kathy Keith March 12, 2012 at 06:40 PM
I plead guilty to the extra credit trips: I remember running down late on a Saturday afternoon to the WWII memorial--my son and I jumped out of the car and I took a picture of my son in front of the required sites while my husband waited in the car. That's all the time we had due to so many other activities. Same think at Udvar-Hazy--we ran over between school and practice to get pictures in front of the required exhibits. Probably not what the teacher had in mind.
diana bork March 12, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Kathy - you got me laughing. It's TRUE. All the extra credit (formerly known as field trips) assignments come with numerous rules to prove the child was there. For the Dulles Gem and Jewellry show, it was ticket stub and then an in-depth interview with a lapidarist. Photographs of the show. Photographs of child interviewing a willing lapidarist. Lincoln's cottage was ticket stub and dozens of photos of exhibits with a written explanation of each exhibit. Holocaust museum was ticket stub and your choice of artistic expression about what the child experienced. Ford's theater was photos of child in front of exhibits and then a written explanation of a specific number of exhibits plus ticket stub. Oceanographic Exhibit was NO ticket stub (hooray, that was free but parking took an hour) but again came with specific requirements as to proof of being there and written description of what you saw in some specific order. You are right about Udvar-Hazy - blocked that one out of my mind. And, guess what, if my son goes to Langley we get to do this all over again! (maybe I can just do a little photo-shopping with heads, hmmm, but alas the ticket stubs have been turned in).
Dolores Skowronek March 13, 2012 at 02:15 AM
I know that early start times are impacting the health of my child. In case anyone wants to watch, I "unlocked" the video of my son waiting for his bus in the dark, in the busy street at 6:35 am. Can anyone honestly say that this is a good thing? http://youtu.be/pUSWUFsh7oE For the health and safety of OUR children - we can't let this matter drop. I agree with Laurie, we can't put our heads in the sand and expect things to change. There are currently many laws and regulations in place in schools that focus on health and safety. These exist for a reason - to protect OUR nation's children and ensure public health. To name just a few: School immunization laws, physical activity requirements, hazardous transportation laws for schools, laws prohibiting tobacco use on school property, pesticide application laws, Federal nutrition standards for school meals, Federally mandated school wellness policies, Federal gun free schools / zero tolerance..... Someday, I hope things will change and schools will no longer start at ridiculous early hours. It sounds like there are some very intelligent people on this thread. I hope we can make a difference.
Aalliiee Marie March 15, 2012 at 12:48 AM
I'm a sophomore. My bus comes at 6:40, a full 40 minutes before the South Lakes start time, so I have to be up by 6:10 every day. I'm in IB classes, so I spend anywhere from 1-6 hours per night on homework; additionally, I'm a basketball manager, which means that game days, I don't get home until 9 or 9:30pm. Combined with my insomnia, I'm often lucky to get 5 hours of sleep per night--definitely not enough. I'm so exhausted that I've been sleeping through my first period class, and find it difficult to focus throughout the entire day. To add to my frustration, my bus gets to school in the morning a full 20 minutes before class starts, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, considering that it could just come later and still make it to school on time.

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