Fairfax, VA Turns to Later Start Times for Improvement

Fairfax County is seeking to address the long-debated issue of school start times and push back the start of their school day from 7:20am to at least 8am.

At the moment in Fairfax County classes begin ay 7:20am and school buses begin picking up students before 6am. If these children want to do things such as shower and eat breakfast this means setting a 5am alarm call. The board is reopening the debate on whether to start classes later as critics continue their decade long push for later times, claiming that forcing teenagers to wake before dawn has negative effects on their physical and mental health and is obviously detrimental to their academic performance.

The board is to vote on April 12 regarding a resolution by new school board member, Sandy Evans, that they should have a stated goal of starting High School after 8am and that Superintendent Dale should investigate and report how nearby school districts achieved later start times.

Evans co-founded the advocacy group SLEEP (Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal) in 2004. Nearly 9,000 people have signed the group’s online petition urging school and county officials to address the issue.

There is always resistance to change as people have based their routines on the current arrangements. When the school board considered a similar proposal in 2009 it was rejected 10-2 after complaints from parents, teachers that it would heavily disrupt work and child-care arrangements. Students also noted that it would impact after-school activities.

However, Evans isn’t the only new board member; half the board has changed since the last vote and the new members appear to be reform-oriented.

The school board heard testimony on the issue last week from several members of the public.

The speakers urged the board to adopt the resolution, telling stories about exhausted sons and daughters struggling to meet the demands of school and extracurricular activities.

Studies have shown that later start times do have a positive academic impact, and that early school start times create what is essentially a state of permanent jet lag in their adolescent populations who have a natural tendency towards late bedtimes.

Tuesday

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