Montgomery Co. Considering Later School Starts

The Montgomery County Board of Education is considering pushing back public school start times.

The board heard from parents and members of the community at public hearings on Thursday.

Several options are under consideration for high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. Proposals range from keeping times the same to starting high schools more than an hour later. Montgomery County public high schools currently start at 7:25 a.m.

The cost of proposed changes ranges from zero to $6 million. The main expense comes from adjusting busing schedules.

Teenagers' sleep patterns usually occur at later times than those of adults and children, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Teens may need as many as nine hours of sleep a night, and may have difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m.

As a consequence, adolescents who are sleep-deprived often show a decline in academic performance, are more likely to be involved in a car accident and suffer from mental health problems, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP recommends that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

"His anxiety became so overwhelming, he was physically harming himself and he was suicidal," one mother said of her over-stressed son during Thursday's meeting.

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However, research into the relationship between school start times and student performance found mixed results. A literature review by Hanover Research said that there is not conclusive evidence that later start times help all students.

"No children should be going to school in the dark," Mandi Mader of the organization Start School Later said in a statement. The organization said they have gathered more than 10,000 signatures in an online petition to push back start times.

Fairfax County approved later start times for schools last year. Doctors from Children's National Medical Center who worked with the county found that a majority of students got less than six hours of sleep each night.

Any changes to Montgomery County start and end times will be approved Feb. 10 as part of the 2016 fiscal year budget.

In addition to Thursday's public hearing, the board is taking written input from the community until Feb. 2.

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