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Fairfax Revisits Later High School Start Times

School board discusses implementation at work session

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    Sleep-deprived high school students may finally be able to get a good night’s rest. According to a Herndon Patch.com report, Fairfax County School Board members were to discuss options for implementing later countywide high school start times at a work session Monday afternoon.

    Patch reports that the board had previously voted in April to develop a system-wide goal of pushing back high school start times to 8 a.m. School system staff were assigned to research the history of school start times and were to report their findings at the meeting.

    Staff collected and reviewed data on the 40 largest suburban school systems in the country over the past two months, and found 10 systems similar to Fairfax County with later high school start times. All of the systems, however, had fewer students to transport than Fairfax County, as well as smaller fleet of buses.

    Critics of the idea cite its social cost, saying that the change would force further compression in the bell schedule throughout the school system. Bell schedule changes already in place for the upcoming school year have already drawn flak from parents; some told Patch that they would have to give up their jobs in order to get their children to school.

    Still, advocates for later high school start times have found support from health agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Sleep Foundation, all of which recommend an average of nine hours of sleep per night for adolescents. The NIH in particular has called nine hours of sleep “key to ‘back to school’ success.”

    Some students in the county must get to their bus stops at 5:45 a.m. to get to school by 7:20 a.m., News4's Tracee Wilkins reported.

    FCPS COO Dean Tisdadt said to Patch that he does not believe that the cost of later start times would be overwhelming but understands the need for caution. He recommends that the board hire a consulting firm to conduct further research.

    “I’m going to suggest we look at the [school systems] who changed the time from an earlier time and try to learn how they accomplished that,” Tisdadt said to Patch.

    The school board is not scheduled to vote on the issue until the fall, Wilkins reported.