Teens will have to wait longer to find out if they can sleep in later.
Possible plans for pushing back high school start times will not be delivered to the Fairfax County school system until April, a research group told the School Board on Monday.
School administration hired the sleep research group last April to investigate options for starting high schools after 8 a.m., with an initial target date of receiving a full report this month. Most public high schools in Fairfax County currently start their school days between 7:20 and 7:30 a.m.
School Board members hoping to move forward with what in the past has proved a controversial issue in the community expressed disappointment in the slow progress. So far, the research group has developed nine possible approaches and plans to have three final options to the Board by April.
“On the Board’s part, there is some disappointment that we’re not further along,” said School Board member Ryan McElveen (At-large). “I think one of the reasons we set January 2014 as the goal is so we could get something moving for next year.”
With workable plans now months away, School Board members questioned whether a change could be implemented in time for the next school year.
Fairfax County considered moving back high school start times in 2009, but the plan received opposition and fizzled out. Taking the delay into account, community stonewalling this time around could kill any chances of a change by this September.
However, the research group, made up of sleep experts from Children’s National Medical Center, made community input a priority in the $143,000 study. Extensive meetings with schools, parents and community stakeholder groups are the main reason the research has taken so long, according to Dr. Judy Owens, the co-director of the team conducting the study.
Momentum for a shift in high school start times is growing locally - Loudoun County has pushed the opening bell to 9 a.m., and Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties are considering a similar move. On Monday, the Fairfax County School Board reaffirmed its support for a change.
“We’ve all been eagerly waiting to be able to bring this to reality,” said School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon (At-large). “The Board is behind this.”
However, Moon also noted that any plan for next year would have an impact on an already tight budget. And the school system would need time to publicize changes to the community, making a quick turnaround tricky.
Superintendent Karen Garza asked the research group to continue considering a phase-in approach, introducing later start times at some high schools in the upcoming school year and adding other schools gradually. But that idea left some School Board members out cold.
“We’ve not been particularly successful with phase-in approaches,” said School Board Vice Chairman Tammy Derenak Kaufax (Lee District). “I want it done right, done well, and done for all of our students. I think getting it done right and done well may take some extra time.”
However, School Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) expressed disappointment in the reticence of some of her colleagues to get a change for students as soon as possible.
“There’s going to be difficulty in anything,” Schultz said. “But if we can do something, it’s better than leaving all students with a lack of sleep.”