Parents, students hash out change in start times for Montgomery County schools

BURTONSVILLE, Md. – For the first time since 1993, Montgomery County Public Schools could change their bell schedules.

In the Paint Branch High School cafeteria Monday night, parents and students sat at tables in small groups to talk about what the proposed changes would mean.

Under a proposal from Montgomery County Schools superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr, high school classes would start 50 minutes later at 8:15 a.m. instead of 7:25 each morning. Middle schools would start 10 minutes earlier and elementary start times would remain the same — but the school day would be extended by 30 minutes.

Emonike Ekpeso, a 12-year-old 7th grader at Earle B. Wood Middle School, says the later start time for high schools seems fair, but she has concerns.

“The challenge is that after school activities would be later, and there’d be less time for homework,” Ekpeso says.

Ekpeso explains that when students are given essays to write, it “takes forever.” And so, if her school day shifts later, she could find herself staying up later to get homework done.

Parent Gloria Bellman says she favors a later start time for her high school-aged daughter. With the current 7:25 a.m. start time, her daughter walks to the bus stop in the dark. But Bellman has children in middle and elementary school as well.

“I’m still not sure of the extended time for the elementary [schools]. Not against it, I just need more information,” says Bellman.

Darrel Drobnich, a parent of two elementary school students, said he wants his two children, now in elementary school, to have the later start time.

“Because I think the [positive] impact on the health and safety of students has been very well proven,” he says.

And he says he has no reservations about extending the elementary school day by 30 minutes.

School officials asked the groups to tick off the pros and cons of changing the bell schedules. One student, standing up to speak in favor of a later start time said, “Students will come to school with a better attitude.”

That prompted John Landesman, with the school system’s Office of Community Engagement to ask, “Promise?”

The meeting at Paint Branch High School is the first of four public roundtable discussions. For the list of times and locations, visit the Montgomery County Public Schools website.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow @KateRyanWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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