Fairfax County schools to discuss options for later start times

WASHINGTON — Students at Fairfax County Public Schools may be able to sleep a little longer if the school board approves a proposal that would push back the school start time.

On Wednesday, Children’s National Medical Center will present four action plans to Fairfax County’s School Board on how to adjust schedules to allow high school students to report to class between 30 minutes to an hour later by as early as September 2015, according to The Washington Post.

The proposals are based upon a year-long study by researchers at Children’s National Medical Center. That study, according to The Post, finds that 55 percent of Fairfax County teens get less than six hours of sleep a night when experts recommend teens get at least nine hours of sleep.

Some Fairfax County teens board buses at 5:45 a.m. to get to school for the 7:20 a.m. start time, the Post reports.

And Fairfax County isn’t the only local school system discussing changing start times. Montgomery County, Anne Arundel counties in Maryland have talked about pushing start times until later in the morning.

Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s and a researcher who helped write the proposals, tells the Washington Post that to do nothing is to do harm — it’s a matter of health and safety. Owens cites a study released this year that shows later start times implemented in another jurisdiction resulted in 70 percent fewer teen car crashes, better attendance and higher test scores.

“You’re perpetuating a situation where not only academic achievement is compromised but their health and safety is compromised,” Owens told The Post.

One of the proposed action plans also would push back start times for elementary and middle school children until as late as 9:15 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. respectively.

Critics of later school start times say schedule changes don’t result in children getting much more sleep because after-school activities and homework get pushed later into the evening.

Financial considerations also weigh upon the issue heavily. Adjustments to transportation schedules can be costly .

The Post reports that the action plans to be presented to the school board Wednesday would cost between $4.7 million and $12.4 million to implement. One of the action plans to accommodate the schedule changes would include buying 108 busses.

For decades, the Fairfax County School Board has been studying the issue of how class schedules impact performance of teen students.

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