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Montgomery petition calls for later school bells

Sunday - 11/4/2012, 1:29am  ET

ROCKVILLE, Md. - Thousands of people across Montgomery County have signed a petition calling for later start times for high schools, which often start class before 7:30 a.m.

The Washington Post reports more than 7,000 people have signed the petition since it was launched Oct. 15. It will be presented to the school board this month.

Supporters point to research showing that lack of sleep is linked to academic performance, absenteeism and increased risk of depression and car crashes.

Parent Shelly McGill of Bethesda says it's not safe for students to be out before the sun rises. A student was fatally struck by a car this week at 7:03 a.m. on her way to Seneca Valley High School.

While a later school start sounds good to teens and many parents, it could have a domino effect. School buses in Montgomery County do double or triple duty, driving teens first, then middle schoolers and finally the youngest kids. Buying more buses to accommodate the time change for teens would be cost-prohibitive. Later start times would also conflict with after-school sports.

Mary Carskadon, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, says the teenage brain needs eight and a half to nine and a half hours of sleep per night. A teenager in Montgomery County would have to be in bed by 9 p.m. to get the right amount and still be on time the next morning - a bedtime many teens are unwilling to adopt.

Joshua Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, has promised to take another look at the question. The petition goes to the school board in November.

Fairfax County also has early start times. But Arlington and Loudoun counties start school later.

WTOP's Rosemary Frisino Toohey and Heather Brady contributed to this report.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP and the Associated Press. All rights reserved.)