Since the introduction of Superintendent Joshua Starr’s original proposal, different proposals to change school start times have drawn ceaseless debates among the MCPS community, as manifested at a public hearing last Thursday, January 22. Students, staff, and parents across the county worry about what implications changing the start times—or not changing the start times—will have.
Last June, the Board of Education asked Starr to find lower-cost options (costing less than $10 million) to change school start times in a way that would allow the county’s teens to get more sleep. Parent and student complaints and recent studies suggesting that waking up later in the day can benefit learning among students aged 12-18 motivated a long push by students, parents, and teachers to start schools later, resulting in a $21 million proposal by Starr in October 2013, under which high schools would start at 8:15 am.
In his most recent memo, Starr suggested pushing all start times back by 20 minutes or not changing start times at all but instead “explore some modifications that could allow high school students to get more sleep, such as abbreviated schedules and offering more online courses.”
Starr stated that pushing school start times back by twenty minutes “is not ideal for extending sleep time,” but said that such a change would be “a move in the right direction, and will allow the potential for some extended sleep for all involved.”
Montgomery Blair HS alumni, Marisela Tobar, said that “pushing school start times by twenty minutes would have allowed [her] to get that much more sleep.”
Marisela, who was engaged in an afterschool job and college applications last year, added that “starting school start times later might have helped [her] be more focused in her classes.”
However the twenty minute shift might not be ideal for everyone. One foreign language teacher at Albert Einstein HS, says that “[she doesn’t] know how much twenty minutes can really help, because [she] knows many teenagers have disordered lives, and don’t get enough sleep, because of late night jobs and other late night habits such as texting and playing video games.”
“My first and second period students might be more awake in my class if they did have a substantial increase in the amount of sleep they get,” the Einstein teacher added.
She is also conscious of other situations that may prevent students from attending their early morning classes. “I know that many high school students are responsible for taking their younger siblings to the bus stop or to school, and therefore, they miss the first two periods,” she said. Overall, however, she would support starting high school as late as 9:00 am. “Even though later start times might interfere with students’ afternoon jobs and extra-curricular activities,” she says, “sports and jobs are not more important than education.”
Starting at 9:00 am would cost close to nothing, according to school system research. In fact, different options explored by the Superintendent suggested start times relatively close to 9:00 am. These include options such as switching high school and elementary school start times and splitting the high school day.
Although Dr. Starr is a strong advocate for changes to the school’s starting times, he explained in a memo that a change in start times “will impact many,” and that “we must be ready to work with our communities and schools that we serve.”
Article by the MoCo Student Staff Writer Darian Garcia of Richard Montgomery High School