Fairfax County Students Could Get an Extra Hour of Sleep

New start time proposals in Fairfax County could help high school students get more sleep, but middle school and elementary school students could start earlier or later, depending on which plan the school board adopts.

The changes could go into effect as early as fall 2015.

Sleep doctors from Children's National Medical Center have been working with the school system all school year to determine whether students need more sleep, and whether schools' start times should be changed.

The group found that, on average, children are getting six hours of sleep a night; researchers say most need at least nine. Many high school students are up by 5:45 a.m. in order to start school at 7:20 a.m., with 55 percent of students getting less than six hours of sleep a night.

There's also a complicating factor among high school students: Many kids' circadian rhythms shift later when they are teens, making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m., according to the National Sleep Foundation.

The medical center has presented six potential plans for new start times to the school board. Fairfax County school officials have also created some other scenarios of their own.

Elementary, middle and high school students could all be affected by the changes.


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Under all the plans presented, high school days would start later. Middle and elementary schools could begin earlier or later, depending on how bus schedules would best work.

According to one proposal, the start of the high school day would be delayed just half an hour, to 7:50 a.m., with the day wrapping up at 2:40 p.m. Another plan would push the beginning of the day to 9:15 a.m., nearly two hours later. That day would end at 4:05 p.m.

Middle schools -- which now start between 7:40 a.m. and 8:05 a.m. -- could move to start times between 7:20 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. under the new plans. Those students could wrap up their day as early as 2 p.m. or as late as 4:20 p.m.

Elementary schools -- which currently start between 8 a.m. and 9:20 a.m. -- could start between 7:35 a.m. and 10 a.m. (However, the recommendations cite a "comfort zone" of a 7:45-9:15 a.m. range.) They would finish their school day as early as 2:20 p.m. or as late as 4:40 p.m.

A meeting between the two groups Wednesday gave the board a chance to question Children's staff on their findings and discuss other issues.

Among the concerns raised: the cost of these schedule changes. One proposal would have caused the school system more than $12 million, but board members quickly eliminated that option.

Eight public meetings are expected in May and June before the board makes a final decision on October.

School officials in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties are also working to push back start times for students.

Earlier this week, News4 asked if you think your school should open later. Here's the results we've gotten for this survey and our other recent surveys:

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