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Board to Take Up Later Start Times Monday

Fairfax County Public Schools staff will present research at work session.

Fairfax County School Board members will return to a years-long discussion on how to implement later high school start times across Fairfax County on Monday at a school board work session.

In April, the board, led by Sandy Evans (Mason), and tasked staff with researching the history of school start times and report back to the board on Monday, June 11.

two Fairfax County Public Schools Task Forces found in 1998 and 2008 respectively that moving the county's high school start times to later in the day would benefit students and the larger community, and recommended the school system find a way to do it.

Evans to advocate for later high school start times.

has drawn comments from advocates such as SLEEP and others who cite studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), all of whom say adolescents need an average of nine hours of sleep per night for "optimal performance, health, and brain development."

But it's also found critics in residents who say the measure is not cost effective and would negatively affect elementary school students, particularly through bell schedule changes that would trickle down through the rest of the system.

Separate bell schedule changes are already in place

In April, former school board member Stu Gibson submitted a letter against the most recent resolution, citing the board's previous attempts — the first of which he spearheaded in 1998 — to address high school start times.

"The biggest lesson we learned from that unsuccessful attempt to change HS start times was that, until someone invents a 30-hour day, the issue is not whether the goal is reachable," Gibson wrote in his letter. "No. The issue is whether — once the community understands the consequences that will come with any change in HS start times — the community is willing to make the trade-offs necessary to achieve the goal."

In the past two months, FCPS staff has looked at the 40 largest suburban school systems in the country, said Dean Tisdadt, FCPS chief operating officer and head of facilities and transportation services. Of those 40, they found 10 -- including Loudoun County in Ashburn, Va. -- that were most similar to Fairfax County and also had later high school start times.

Staff completed a detailed survey in order to assess if those 10 schools have the same demand for service as Fairfax County including walking distance for certain schools and magnet school programs, among others.

[To view results from the survey, view the PDF at right.]

“If you look at the responses, systems like Loudoun County have had [later] start times forever, but most have changed in a decade,” Tisdadt said.

While there are many school systems in Virginia, Tisdadt said Loudoun was the only one similar enough to Fairfax County to serve as a viable model. Arlington County, which the Board requested staff consider, is smaller both in terms of enrollment and geography.

Each of the 10 schools also appears to have fewer students to transport and fewer buses than Fairfax County. Documents on the school board’s website lists Fairfax County as transporting 130,000 students on 1,081 buses. The biggest difference between Fairfax County and the 40 schools staff reviewed, Tisdadt said, is those systems have a more compressed opening and closing time scheduled compared to Fairfax County.

Tisdadt said he doesn’t anticipate implementing later start times will be hugely costly, but he would recommend the board reach out to a consulting firm to complete further research on how Fairfax County can be successful at implementing the shift.

“If the Board wants to try and learn from these systems, I’m going to suggest we look at the ones who changed the time from an earlier time and try to learn how they accomplished that,” Tisdadt said.

The meeting begins 3 p.m. Monday at 8115 Gatehouse Road in Falls Church.

Oakton Patch Editor Nicole Trifone contributed reporting to this story.

Phyllis Payne June 09, 2012 at 03:19 PM
School Board directed staff to look for successful approaches from other districts as follows (from the April resolution): "BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Fairfax County School Board direct the Superintendent to identify and provide a list of practices in school divisions that start high schools after 8 a.m. -- including successful approaches in school districts that have changed from before to after 8 a.m. and in school districts that have traditionally had later morning start times (including, but not limited to: Arlington County and Loudoun County, VA; Minneapolis, MN; Wilton, CT; and Brevard, FL) -- to determine and report to the School Board by June 2012 on how such school districts: Scheduled elementary, middle and high schools Arranged transportation for elementary, middle and high school students to and from school Scheduled sports and after-school activities for high school students around their start and end times Used successful change management techniques to involve and prepare parents, teachers, students and other stakeholders and the school division for a different schedule, in cases where a shift to later start times has occurred. "
Charles O'Reilly June 09, 2012 at 11:54 PM
This issue has been considered and rejected by previous Fairfax County School Boards. I want and expect this Fairfax County School Board to focus on other items, not reconsider rejected and poor solutions for this county. The proposed later start times will be detrimental to non-high school students, high school students involved in extra-curricular activities, employers, and youth sports clubs. It's time for SLEEP to put later high school start times to bed and move on to other areas of potential improvement for our schools. Chuck O'Reilly Vienna, Virginia
Beth June 12, 2012 at 12:21 PM
So happy that FCPS will look into this issue again. Charles, it was not resolved before. Yes, the previous School Board rejected the healthy changes before, but the iterations that the FCPS staff created were untenable. The school system did learn, however, that there were software programs available to help plan to bus routes. Before, they were using dry erase boards to plan the routes like a giant carpool system. My children always woke up early and then had to wait three hours before elementary school started. As they get older, their bodies want to sleep in, but they have to wake up an hour or two in advance of their natural clocks. We can make this happen. As far as the School Board, many ran with healthy start times as part of their campaigns. I certainly based my votes partially on this issue.

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