Maryland ‘Sleep-In’ Advocates for Later School Start Times

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Students and parents gathered their sleeping bags and pajamas and set up shop outside the school board headquarters in Montgomery County, Maryland in an effort to advocate for later start times for area high schools so students can get more sleep.

The “sleep-in” was set for the night before the school board was set to vote on the issue, which would see schedules in the 25 high schools in the area shift as the start time becomes later than the current time of 7:25am.

“I have a lot of trouble concentrating on what we’re discussing in class, and most of the time I’m just focusing on trying to stay awake,” said Theresa Davison, 15, a Walter Johnson High School freshman who was tucked under sleeping bags beside her sister, Natalie, 13, on a 36-degree afternoon.

The school board is set to vote on a number of proposals on the topic, some of which carry no price tag, while others range from $2.6 million to $5.9 million a year, writes Donna St. George for The Washington Post.

Some of the options involve a delay of the start time by 20-35 minutes and a reorder of who starts school earlier.  One scenario has elementary students going to school first, another has middle school students doing so.

Supporters of the idea have cited research that proves teenagers biologically have later sleep cycles and a lack of sleep could actually promote mental health problems, an increased risk of car accidents, and a decrease in school performance.  According to experts at the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need between eight to ten hours of sleep per night, and many find it hard to fall asleep before 11pm, reports Chris Gordon for NBC Washington.

“We want our elected Board of Education to know that the parents and voters of Montgomery County are not going away until they modernize bell times,” said Erica Hauver, a parent and organizer of the Monday event in Montgomery.

Meanwhile, critics of the movement believe the change would be too costly and that it would conflict with commutes, child-care arrangements, after-school jobs, extracurricular activities and athletics.

A survey to measure opposition to the concept was released last week by the county’s teachers union and was completed by almost half of the union’s 12,000 members.  Of the participants, 63% said they would not like to see a change to the start time.  When the various options were discussed, 54% said they did not agree with the 20-minute change and 64% did not want the school day to begin 35 minutes later.

The topic has been on the docket for the county since 2012 when parents submitted a petition that had gained over 10,000 signatures.

After having a group do research, Superintendent Joshua P. Starr released a proposal to move the start time to 8:15am.  In addition, the elementary school day would be increased by 30 minutes.  However, that idea was not supported by parents of younger students.  In the end, the proposal was dropped due to the excessive price tag of over $21 million and the mixed reaction of the public.  The school board asked him to create a new proposal that would not go above $10 million.

Those proposals were released last month and voted on by the school board on Tuesday.  The board decided to push back the start time middle and high schools in the district by 20 minutes, while elementary schools will see their start times pushed back by 10 minutes.  The changes will go into effect for the 2015-16 school year.