Va., Md. parent groups band together for later school start times

Hank Silverberg,

WASHINGTON – There’s more pressure for area school systems to start classes for high schoolers a bit later in the morning.

Parent groups in Fairfax County in Virginia and Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland are going to share resources in their efforts for later start times.

“We know this can be done because it has been done in other districts,” says Phyliss Payne, co-founder of the Fairfax Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal or SLEEP for short. The organization has been pushing for later start times for several years.

“It is a lot of leg work to do the research, and we can help each other out with that,” says Payne.

The Fairfax County School Board has already hired a consultant to look at starting school after 8 a.m. A final report due in the spring.

Montgomery County’s school board will start to look at the issue this month.

A big issue in both cases is the cost of transportation since school bus routes would have to be altered.

“We actually had an independent consultant come here and show us the both low-cost and no-cost model and that independent consultant is from Montgomery County,” says Payne.

Parents in all three school districts have circulated petitions that now have thousands of signatures asking for earlier start times for high school students.

The groups point to research that says teenagers function better and learn more when they start their days later.

Schools in the three systems start between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., forcing many high school students to get up as early as 5:45 a.m.

“We all believe this is a critical public health problem,” says Kari Oakes, co- founder of Start School Later in Anne Arundel County.

Payne says all the research is on their side.

Several area school districts, including Arlington and Loudoun counties and the city of Alexandria, have already pushed back the start time for high schools until after 8 a.m.

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