The Fairfax County Public Schools board has chosen an amended version of Option 3 as the preferred way to proceed with changing high school start times.
The board will vote Oct. 23 on a bell schedule that has high schoolers starting the day between 8 and 8:10 a.m. Middle schools will begin at 7:30 a.m. Elementary schools will remain largely unchanged, with starting bells from 8 to 9:20 a.m. Secondary Schools will follow the high school bell schedule.
Superintendent Karen Garza will submit this option for the School Board’s formal consideration as a new business item at its regular business meeting on Sept. 18. The School Board is scheduled to vote on it on Oct. 23.
Changes will go into effect for the 2015-16 school year.
Even though the start time issue is geared at letting teenagers get crucial sleep, the youngest teens will still have to be at school a half hour earlier than the current 8 a.m. start time.
“The proposed middle school time does not differ much from what it is currently,” said FCPS Board at-large member Ryan McElveen. “And since it is only two years as opposed to the four high school years, that means that 10-11 of a student’s 13 years in FCPS will have a start time after 8 a.m.”
The FCPS board has been talking about changing the high school start times for several years, and made a formal proposal in 2012 to move the high school start time from 7:20 a.m. to after 8 a.m.
The school board worked with sleep experts at Children’s National Medical Center, who said teenagers were chronically sleep deprived. Pushing high school start times past 8 a.m. would have an impact on everything from behavior to grades to driving records and sports injuries, the CNMC experts say.
The board held a series of community meetings last spring to gain public feedback on four options for changes.
The original Option 3 had high schools beginning from 8 to 8:10 a.m. and ending between 2:30 and 2:40 p.m. Elementaries would start between 8 and 9:20 a.m., which is essentially the current schedule. Middle schools would see a big change with a 7:20 a.m. start and a 2 p.m. dismissal.
The board says that in the future, “our goal will be to continue to seek improvements for even later start times so that middle schools will move towards 8 and high schools will move towards 8:30.”
The revised plan will cost less than anticipated, according to FCPS documents. The original Option 3 was estimated to cost $5.5 million, mostly to cover 46 new buses.
The revised plan will use fewer buses, and the purchase of 20 new buses has already been allocated in the FY 2015 school board budget, bringing costs to an estimated $1.5 million to $4.9 million.
“The preferred option that the board decided to support has been narrowed over several board meetings from four initial options, on which the board received significant input from community meetings,” McElveen said. “The board determined that this preferred option, which includes the same 8 a.m. start time for all students at secondary schools and high schools, was the best solution after hearing input from secondary principals who expressed concern with starting their middle and high school students at different times.
“Although the plan is not perfect, it is the best feasible hybrid of multiple plans. Over the coming years the board will continue to support pushing the middle school start time closer to 8 a.m. through small efficiencies that are realized annually.”