Sleep experts from Children's National Medical Center (CNMC) hired by the Fairfax County School Board to come up with recommendations for new class start times say extensive research shows sleep deprivation is a national epidemic and to do nothing to get Fairfax County public high school students more sleep is to do them harm.
School board members have agreed on two things: to do nothing is not an option and that any changes in start times will not be phased in, but would go into effect at the start of the 2015-2016 school year.
"Given all our research and discussion with stakeholders over the past 12 months, our team strongly believes later bell changes for Fairfax County Public Schools can be achieved at a reasonable cost in the 2015-16 academic year," says Judith Owen, director of Sleep Medicine at CNMC.
Owen says recent studies show 56 percent of all high schoolers surveyed sleep six hours or less on school nights and that only three percent get an adequate amount of sleep.
"I was tired today, but it's only because I had to go to sleep late because I had to finish up some homework," says Falls Church High School sophomore Isabel Cruz.
"When we have two-hour delays," adds student Andrew James, "it feels like when I get to school, it feels really good, like I'm awake and I can do things."
The Fairfax County School Board has agreed to consider several options to start high schools later in the morning.
"We have an obligation as stewards of this public school system to optimize student learning and to protect and promote student health and well-being," says school board member Megan McLaughlin.
One option would start high school at 8:30 a.m. and middle schools at 9:30 a.m.
Another would start high school between 7:50 a.m. and 8:20 a.m., but move middle school start times to 7:20 a.m.
Yet another would have the first bell at Fairfax County high schools ring at 9:15 a.m.
"I think more sleep is needed," says parent Heidi Clary. "But also, my son is involved in sports, so as it happens, I think one of the reasons why they do have the early start times is because if your kids are involved in sports. And right now, baseball doesn't get out till almost 6 o'clock."
One school board member didn't like what he was hearing.
"My reaction to my colleagues," said Ted Velkoff, "is some of those plans are throwing the middle schools under the bus, if you'll pardon my pun."
And the cost estimates of making changes -- some in the multi-millions of dollars -- are also a consideration. The need for more school buses is part of the equation at a time when the school system is facing enormous budget cuts.
The board will hold a series of town hall meetings to get the community's input before making a decision in October.
Click on these links for more detailed information about the sleep experts' recommendations:
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