Prince William Co. school start times to remain the same for now

School start times in Prince William County, Virginia, are expected to remain the same for the foreseeable future after results from a recent survey didn’t show strong support for making changes.

At a school board meeting Wednesday, Michael Neall, the county’s supervisor for research, accountability and strategic planning, said a majority of parents and staff — and a plurality of students — want to keep school start times the same. The findings, Neall told board members, don’t favor changes to start times for the 2023-24 school year.

The county began exploring possible changes to its bell schedules in January 2020, but school board members said the survey results may suggest that some students and families don’t want change after the pandemic disrupted routines.

“(Students) have gone through so many changes in the last couple of years,” school board member Lillie Jessie said. “We may have had a different response had we not gone through the pandemic, and parents have changed their schedule, the kids have been at home. They’ve been back and forth on different hybrid schedules.”

County leaders said they remain open to exploring alternative schedules in the future.

More than 6,300 school system employees, 10,500 students and 11,400 parents fully completed the survey, which was open to the community from April 29 until May 13.

The survey sought feedback on three options: one that wouldn’t call for any changes, one that pushed start times back for elementary, middle and high schools, and one that reversed the current schedule, with elementary schools starting earliest and high schools beginning the latest.

Survey options for the school start time schedule for Prince William County, Virginia, public school system.

About 57% of parents/guardians and 56% of staff wanted to keep start times the same, as did about 42% of students.

All three groups cited increased adolescent sleep as a benefit of a schedule change, and the school system shared research suggesting there’s a small increase in sleep when start times are delayed until 8:30 a.m. or later.

“In school, when you’re tired, it’s hard to [concentrate] and focus on work when your eyes give out on you, hence the reason getting up so early can be challenging,” one student said in a survey response.

Parent work schedules, extracurricular activities and schedule disruptions were identified as barriers to potential changes.

One student responded that if school end times get pushed back, a schedule “would look like this: go to school, come home, do work if they have some, go to sleep. It’s difficult if it ends too late.”

The results suggest that opposition to changing start times is more intense than support for changes, Neall said.

“I know this was a two-year process; they brought this up during the pandemic,” School Board member Loree Williams said. “It’s been brought up years in the past, and I’m always going to continue to praise and advocate when we provide that type and level of engagement with our students, with our staff. Because I believe when students have ownership of their ideas, and we support that, great things can happen.”

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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