Anne Arundel schools approve ‘healthier’ start times for students

High schoolers in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, will get an extra hour of sleep next year, while students in the county’s elementary schools will lose half an hour, as part of a new plan to adjust start and dismissal times for the 2022-2023 school year.

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education unanimously voted to approve the plan on Wednesday. The impetus behind the move is the growing consensus that high school students are not getting enough sleep because schools start too early.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a lack of sleep among high schoolers is associated not only with poor academic performance, but also with health risks such as depression, weight gain, drinking, smoking and drug use.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high school students start at 8:30 a.m. or later, but the majority of public high schools and middle schools in the United States start before that time.

Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) will no longer be in that majority next fall.

“This has been a long discussion for our board of education. It goes back a number of years,” Bob Mosier, chief communications officer for AACPS, told WTOP. “The board in January asked for a plan that would develop healthier start times for all students, and in March, the board contracted with Prismatic Services Inc. to do the consulting work.”

Prismatic presented its final recommendations Wednesday night to the board, which approved the sweeping changes.

“So there are two real big swings,” Mosier said. “One is moving our high schools from 7:30 a.m. starts to 8:30 a.m. starts, and the other is moving our elementary schools, where they typically start last now — they will start first.”

Elementary schools currently start between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Next fall, they will start between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.

Middle schools will also see a shift in their schedules, albeit a smaller one. Currently, middle schools start roughly between 8:15 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. Next fall, they will start between 8:30 a.m. and 9:15 a.m.

The county’s 13 high schools all start at the same time, but its 19 middle schools and 80 elementary schools have slightly differently schedules, so the exact start and dismissal times for individual schools won’t be known for several months.

Originally, the board wanted to implement the plan in January 2022 but pushed it back to next fall to give the school system — which serves more than 80,000 students — more time to prepare for the change.

Among other things, schools will have to reconfigure schedules for meals, athletics, child care operations and bus service.

On that note, AACPS, like other school systems around the nation, is facing a bus driver shortage because of the pandemic. Mosier said the county currently needs 32 more buses to address overcrowding, which Prismatic and school transportation officials are working to resolve.

Looking ahead, though, Prismatic is trying to make bus routes more efficient by consolidating some routes and stops, so that when the county implements the new start times next year, it won’t need any additional buses.

Prismatic’s work has also shown that the time shift can be done at little to no additional cost.

Mosier said officials will be fine-tuning the plan over the next four weeks before they begin assigning specific start and dismissal times. Superintendent George Arlotto has already begun putting together an implementation team to oversee the project and work through the various logistical challenges.

“And then we’re going to need a robust and comprehensive communications plan to make sure that families understand not just what is happening, but how it’s happening at their specific school and what that impact will be on them, so that they can make family and life decisions far in advance of next September,” Mosier said.

Anna Gawel

Anna Gawel joined WTOP in 2020 and works in both the radio and digital departments. Anna Gawel has spent much of her career as the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat, which has been the flagship publication of D.C.’s diplomatic community for over 25 years.

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