Fairfax County Revisits Issue of School Start Time

The Fairfax County School Board is revisiting a common debate for its members — whether high schools should open later in the day to accommodate teenagers’ natural sleep cycles or continue forcing them to attend classes in a semi-somnambulistic state.

Board members are likely to now hire a consultant to examine how to push back the high school start time with minimal disruption to the community and families working lives, and without having a negative budgetary effect. To this end a committee of four members has been drafted to craft a job description for the consultancy vacancy.

Emma Brown, of the Washington Post, writes:

The four are Sandy Evans (Mason), a longtime advocate for later start times; Ted Velkoff (At Large), who has been skeptical about whether bell-schedule changes are practical; Patty Reed (Providence), who has supported later start times, and who is also a fiscal conservative known for her concern with reining in spending; and Ryan McElveen (At Large).

Chief Operating Officer Dean Tistadt has already shot down suggestions for a partial rollout or gradual implantation of later start times as the sprawling school system employs one of the largest fleet of school buses in the nation:

Tweaking that complicated system little by little, Tistadt said, “would cost a lot to buy the counselors we would need for the transportation staff who would be on suicide watch.”

Tistadt may also be reluctant to endure the trauma of managing incremental changes following the public backlash over recent small adjustments to the transportation schedules this Spring. The alterations were in the name of efficiency and allows the school system to reduce its transport costs by half a million dollars. However:

Hundreds of people signed a petition opposing the change, saying it “would drastically change the quality of life for many families.” And more than 100 parents and teachers showed up at Laurel Ridge on Monday night to voice their concerns at a town hall meeting with Tistadt and School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock).

School start times are obviously a charged topic in the County with vocal resistance to change. However, the fact that this is the eighth time in 24 years that the topic has been visited by the board suggests that there is also significant pressure for change to occur. In a climate where student’s results matter as much to the teachers as the students it seem possible that changes which benefit students ability to study may finally get approved.

Of additional concern is the effect that shifting any elementary schools time tables back would have as it is generally considered that younger children are naturally more able to work earlier in the day.