|Advocates for later school start times pack a school board meeting last month. [Photo from SLEEP.]|
The Fairfax County School Board by a vote of 11 to 1 Oct. 23 approved later start times for high schools, beginning in the 2015-16 school year.
High school would start between 8 and 8:10 a.m. and end between 2:45 and 2:55 p.m. High schools currently start at 7:20 a.m., which means some students wake up as early as 5:45 a.m. to catch a bus.
To make that work, the plan calls for middle schools to start earlier – 7:30 a.m. instead of the current 8 a.m. Elementary school students will begin their day between 8 and 9:20 a.m. All elementary schools will start at the same time or within five to 10 minutes of their current start time.
The change will require the addition of 27 buses at a cost of $4.9 million.
“The growing body of research on the health benefits for adolescents has become so clear and compelling, we felt that we had to make a change,” said school board chair Tammy Derenak-Kaufax.
A group of parent activists has been working to get Fairfax County Public Schools to adopt later high school start times for the past 10 years, citing the need for teens get an adequate amount of sleep. Mason school board member Sandy Evans was one of the founders of the advocacy group SLEEP (Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal).
In August, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement that recommended later start times so that school schedules would be aligned with the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents. Other research found sleep-deprived students have shortened attention spans, slower reaction times, lower test scores, poorer grades, increased rates of depression, and higher risk of car crashes.
The school board adopted a resolution in April 2012 to seek solutions for establishing high school start times at 8 a.m. or later. The Children’s National Medical Center’s Division of Sleep Medicine worked with a stakeholder committee to develop a process for initiating change, and the committee presented to the board earlier this year several scenarios for earlier high school start times.
The board hosted a series of community outreach sessions last spring to seek feedback on four options.