In April 2013, FCPS officials commissioned a study with Children’s National Medical Center doctors to see if pushing the opening bell to 8 or even 8:30 a.m. would help sleepy teens.
The board last heard from representatives of the study — which cost FCPS $143,000 — in January. At that time, it was determined that more discussion was needed. The board said in January if any changes are implemented, it would not be until at least fall of 2015.
Fairfax County high schools begin at 7:20 a.m. — which means some students are on the bus as early as 5:45 a.m. There has been a grassroots effort the last several years to change high school start times in Fairfax. The local advocacy group Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (SLEEP) has been very vocal, saying that 72 out of 95 Virginia counties now start at high school 8 a.m. or later. Montgomery County, Md., also is exploring later start times.
The Children’s team has proposed nine different scenarios for FCPS. Changing the high school start time would affect other schools too as elementary school and middle schools would have to adjust so high school bus routes would start later.
CNMC doctors say teens need eight hours of sleep or more for optimum health. Sleep deprivation leads to shortened attention span, decreased higher level cognitive skills, reduced ability to learn and remember new information, decreased efficiency in completing tasks, lower standardized test scores and decreased school achievement, says CNMC’s Project Smart Sleep website.
Current School Board members have made pushing back high school start times a goal since 2010. The school board passed a 2012 resolution committing to later start times. In 2009, the school board voted 10-2 against moving back high school start times. Parents and teachers were also not in favor of the plan, saying the change would affect parents’ work schedules, student activities, and child care schedules for younger students.
Also, implementing the change would cost money, something that the school system is lacking right now. The board has asked the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for $98.1 million for Fiscal Year to cover a budget gap that may be as high as $130 million.