Fairfax County Superintendent Karen Garza supports a proposal that would push back high school start times to 8 a.m. or later starting in 2015.
Garza’s endorsement followed the recommendation of the sleep research team contracted by the school system.
The team, made up of sleep experts from Children’s National Medical Center, came on board in April 2013. Their charge: Develop plans to shift start times in Fairfax County high schools later to to help teens get more sleep.
After discussing four scenarios at a series of community meetings in May and June, the research team Monday recommended the option that would push back high school opening bells by at least 40 minutes.
Most high schools currently start at 7:20 a.m. The high school start times would move to between 8-8:10 a.m. While this was not the most extreme scenario - one option would have had high schools starting at 9:15 a.m. - Garza said it offered the most practical solution.
“We wanted to zero in on the option that balances our students’ need for sleep with the other effects on our school system and community,” Garza said.
The recommended plan comes with the support of the Fairfax County Athletic Council, said Jeff Platenberg, the assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation services.
The council’s approval clears a large hurdle in the effort to shift school start times. Past attempts have been hampered by opposition from the Athletic Council and other groups concerned over the effect a later closing bell could have on after-school activities. The plan under consideration would see high schools end at 2:40-50 p.m.
Elementary schools would remain on the same schedule under the proposal, but middle schools would shift to earlier start times.
The recommended scenario originally had middle schools taking high schools’ former 7:20 a.m. slot. But Platenberg said that school staff would work with the research team on modifications that would push the middle school start to 7:30 a.m. or later, a change supported by Garza.
“The intent is that now we can go back and fine-tune or tweak that and provide nuances,” Platenberg said.
Still, any change would likely bump up the projected cost of the proposal, which already comes with a projected price tag of more than $5.5 million. Much of the cost would come from the purchase of 46 new buses.
Dr. Judy Owens, director of the sleep research team, said they will deliver the final proposal and accompanying report by August. The School Board plans to vote on the proposal in October, with any changes taking effect in the 2015-16 school year.
School Board member Ted Velkoff (At-large) said that if the proposal goes through, he wants to find a way to measure the effects of the altered start times on student health and achievement.
School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) expressed confidence that implementing new start times would be a step in the right direction for the school system.
“I would put Vegas money down that if we make this change we will see an improvement in the lives of children in Fairfax County,” McLaughlin said.