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Later HS Start Times Get Endorsement From Pediatricians

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.

FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza said previously 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. Most were supportive of the change, but some included “no change” as part of their feedback.

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

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FCPS Wants Your Input on School Start Times

FCPS School BusFairfax County Public Schools will host a series of community meetings in May and June to gather opinion from parents and students about adjusting school start times.

The Cluster 8 meeting will be Tuesday, May 27 at South Lakes High School. Residents can attend any of the other meetings as well. Visit the FCPS website to see the full list of dates and times.

The Fairfax County School Board adopted a resolution in April 2012 to investigate changing high school start times to after 8 a.m. In 2013, it contracted with Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) to study the effects of chronic sleepiness and develop a proposal for later start times.

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.

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.

Last month, CNMC presented four scenarios to the FCPS Board. Implementing the changes would cost anywhere from $2.7 million to $7.6 million, mostly due to the purchasing of additional buses. The changes would also affect middle school and elementary school students as well.

High schools would begin from 7:50 a.m. to as late as 9:15 a.m. under the four proposals. To see additional details, visit FCPS’ website.

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