School start times in Montgomery County under debate - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

School start times in Montgomery County under debate

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The Montgomery County School Board Tuesday agreed to seek community input on a recommendation from Schools Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr to change the start time for the county's 25 public high schools from the current 7:25 a.m. to 8:15 a.m.

Along with having high schoolers start their day 50 minutes later, the proposal would begin middle school instruction ten minutes earlier at 7:45 a.m.

"This is about the overall health and well-being of our kids," says Dr. Starr. "The studies are inconclusive about the direct link between standardized test scores and bell times. But we know that if our kids sleep more, they'll be less stressed, they'll be happier and healthier and that's good enough for me."

Montgomery County School Board members say they know changing start times would affect families in different ways. It would also affect before and after-school programs. Even traffic patterns on already congested roadways.

But talk to parents with teenagers in public school and you are likely to hear the same thing.

"They're exhausted," says Ann Gallagher, who says she has two children in high school. "The bags under their eyes start appearing the first week of school and do not disappear until the first week of summer."

This is the second time in 15 years the county is considering starting high school later in the morning.

"I don't look at this as an issue of this is going to increase academic performance," says Patricia O'Neill, the only member currently on the school board who was also on the board when the issue was last studied in 1998. "I think it's simply a matter of improving quality of life for teenagers and their families."

The Bell Times Study Group surveyed more than 4,300 parents of high school age children in the county and found the majority, 69 percent, said they would prefer a later start time. Officials say more sleep reduces obesity and anxiety, makes teens safer behind the wheel and doesn't mean they will stay up later.

"There were several studies we looked at that that compared the later start time with the go-to-bed time," says study group leader John Matthews. "And consistently they got more sleep."

Dr. Starr says he wants to look at the implications of starting elementary school instruction at the current times, but extending the day by 30 minutes.

If, after getting a lot more input from the community, the school board next spring approves Dr. Starr's recommendations, the earliest those changes would go into effect would be for the school year starting in August 2015.

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