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by Karen Goff July 18, 2014 at 11:00 am 2 Comments

FCPS Superintendent Karen GarzaExperts from Children’s National Medical Center told the Fairfax County School Board this week that Option 1 or Option 3, with modifications, would be the best of four options for changing high school start times.

Option 1 starts high school at 8:30 a.m. and middle school at 9:30 a.m. Option 3 essentially flips high school (7:20 a.m.)and middle school (8 a.m.) start times. Both leave elementary bells essentially the same.

The high school start time proposals came after the FCPS Board voted in 2012 to change the bell schedule because teens are not getting enough sleep. Superintendent Karen Garza, who joined FCPS in 2013, said she supports moving high school start times past 8 a.m.

The board hired sleep experts from Children’s National Medical Center, who prepared a report detailing how moving to later bell times would enable students to get needed rest.

CNMC doctors said 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.

Garza said at the work session she would like to modify Option 3 so that middle schools could start later than 7:20 a.m. and use Option 3 as a framework to develop an administrative recommendation to take to the Board in September, said FCPS spokesman John Torre.

Under Option 3, high schools, which currently begin at 7:20 a.m., would start at 8 or 8:10 a.m. and end at 2:40 or 2:50 p.m. Middle schools, which currently begin at 8 a.m., would go from 7:20 a.m. to 2 p.m. Elementary Schools would stay on their current schedules, which vary from opening bells from 8 to 9:20 a.m. and dismissal from 2:40 to 4 p.m.

Option 3 will cost an estimated $5,583,005, mostly for 45 new buses, the school system said.

In Option 1, high schools would run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; middle schools from 9:30 a.m. to 4:20 p.m.; and elementary schools anywhere from 7:50 to 9:15 a.m. to 2:25 to 3:50 p.m. Option 1 would cost $7,645,208.

Other options included middle school starting at 9:30 a.m. and high school at 8:30 a.m.; a system where all three school levels change starting times (with high school at 8:10-8:20 a.m.); or high school starting at 9:15 and elementary schools starting at 7:20 a.m.

There was not an option for “no change.” At a series of community meetings this spring, school board members said the change is going to happen for the 2015-16 school year. Community members gave the board a wide variety of feedback on all the options. Some included “no change” as part of their feedback.

The school board will make its final vote on the matter in October.

Photo: FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza/Reston Now file photo

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