South Lakes High SchoolFairfax County Public Schools have an ally in the quest to change high school start times — the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The AAP issued a new position statement on Monday that says high schools should begin after 8:30 a.m. The lead author of the study is Dr. Judith Owens, the same sleep researcher that led FCPS’ proposal for time changes.

If middle and high schools start class to 8:30 a.m. or later, it will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty, the academy’s new statement, titled “Let Them Sleep,” says.

“Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common — and easily fixable — public health issues in the U.S. today,” said Owens, a pediatrician.

“The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life,” Dr. Owens said. “Studies have shown that delaying early school start times is one key factor that can help adolescents get the sleep they need to grow and learn.”

The AAP urges middle and high schools to aim for start times that allow students to receive 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night. In most cases, this will mean a school start time of 8:30 a.m. or later, though schools should also consider average commuting times and other local factors.

“The AAP is making a definitive and powerful statement about the importance of sleep to the health, safety, performance and well-being of our nation’s youth,” Dr. Owens said. “By advocating for later school start times for middle and high school students, the AAP is both promoting the compelling scientific evidence that supports school start time delay as an important public health measure, and providing support and encouragement to those school districts around the country contemplating that change.”

That is essentially the same information Owen has presented to FCPS, which is seeking change from the current 7:20 a.m. start time.

The FCPS school board voted in 2012 to commit to starting high school later. The board hired Children’s National Medical Center experts to prepare a report and then make recommendations on changing start times.

Last spring, the CNMC group recommended four options for change, which were presented to community members in a series of town hall meetings.

In July, the medical experts 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. Read More

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Parents discuss FCPS high school bell changes at Reston meeting.Community feedback on changing Fairfax County Public Schools start times has now been organized by FCPS and posted on its website.

The school board will get a final presentation on the four start times option at a meeting later this month.

After a 2012 decision committing to changing high school start times, FCPS paid experts at Children’s National Medical Center more than $100,000 to study the impact on lack of sleep among teens and formulate scenarios for bell changes.

What the experts found: The students were chronically sleep deprived with a 7:20 a.m. start time. 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 experts say.

“Delaying school start times is one of most important ways to help ensure adolescents are getting enough sleep,”  study leader Judith Owens said at a May 27 meeting at South Lakes High School. She also said students who start school after 8 a.m. are less likely to be depressed, get better grades, score as much as 200 points higher on the SATs and may have higher future earnings.

The CNMC team formulated four scenarios for high school bells. The changes would not go into effect until fall of 2015. The proposals range from start times between 8 and 9:15 a.m., with various changes for elementary and middle school students in order to accommodate the high schoolers.

See details on all four proposals on FCPS’ website.

The proposals will cost between $2.7 million and $7.6 million to implement, mostly to purchase new buses, school board members said. Meanwhile, the FY2015 schools budget was passed this spring with less money than expected from the county board of supervisors, so FCPS had to make $97 million in cuts and will offer employees delayed step raises.

The feedback posted online is from small group discussions from meetings at eight FCPS high schools, including Reston’s South Lakes High School, in May and June. The comments concentrate on the pros and cons of each proposal.

All four options have pros and cons, the community feedback shows.

Some of the pros in community feedback: More sleep for high schoolers, obviously; Options 2 and 3 help families by having siblings home to watch younger kids in the afternoon; teachers will get more sleep; Option 4 is good because high schoolers get more sleep and elementary students will not be impacted.

Some of the general parent concerns about all options: cost of implementation; middle schoolers may get less sleep too; elementary students will be going to school in the dark; and that FCPS has not given the option of “no change” to bell schedule.

Visit FCPS’ website to see complete feedback.

Where do you stand on the proposed high school bell changes?

Photo: Group discussions at a May FCPS community meeting a South Lakes High School on high school start times.


FCPS Superintendent Karen GarzaFairfax County Public Schools is planning to put aside money to help high schools start later in Fiscal Year 2015.

When FCPS adopted its $2.5 billion FY 2015 Advertised Budget on Friday — a record amount that includes a net increase of 2.4 percent, or $59.4 million, from the FY 2014 Approved Budget — the school board also passed a motion for Superintendent Karen Garza to identify savings from the annual bus route review.

The money saved, possibly from condensing some transportation routes, would be earmarked to offset costs of implementing a later start time, FCPS said in a news release.

Parents have been advocating for later start times for Fairfax County high schools for several years. 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. 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.

The FCPS School Board, after hearing commissioned study results from Children’s National Medical Center, said last month that more time was needed to study the sleep issue and that it won’t likely be implemented in 2014-15.

As for the rest of the budget, it will now go before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the public for discussion and changes before being approved in May.

“This is a responsible, needs-based budget that addresses rising enrollment while protecting programs for our students,” said Fairfax County School Board Chair Ilryong Moon. “We are faced with an increase in health insurance rates and we are required to fund an increase in the required contributions to the Virginia Retirement System. Superintendent Garza and members of the Board spent many hours working with stakeholders to develop this budget, which uses a shared approach of reducing expenditures along with requesting additional revenue.”

The budget includes reductions of $96.5 million. Garza said last month that she hoped most of the staff reductions would come through attrition, but she could not rule out layoffs.

The school system will also request an additional $98.1 million from Fairfax County to to offset the growing expenses.

Since FY 2010, student enrollment has grown by 15,603 students and is projected to reach 187,994 students for FY 2015. The projected enrollment growth for next year, and the changing demographics associated with it, will require an additional $25.8 million in school-based resources, FCPS said.

Increases in retirement rate costs are estimated to be $38.9 million and increases in health insurance rates are estimated to be $23.9 million. The FY 2015 Advertised Budget also includes a step increase for eligible employees.

“Retention of our outstanding employees must be a top priority. Employees have only received one step increase in the past five years and FCPS is losing ground competitively with our neighboring jurisdictions. Therefore, we must give our employees a step increase,” says Garza.

FCPS is encouraging county residents to participate in the budget process by attending an upcoming public hearing, work session, or school board meeting. Complete information is available on FCPS’ website.

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