More than one hundred Montgomery County parents, students, and teachers gathered today at the MCPS Board of Education and central office building in Rockville to protest against early high school start times. A group called “Save Our Sleep MCPS” organized the protest, and had called for parents and students to bring pillows, pajamas, and sleeping bags to the school system offices.
Richard Reeves, a BCC High School parent and one of the coordinators of the so-called “sleep-in” protest, stated that “Montgomery County is a leader, but is well behind on [this issue].”
Several “sleep-in” participants also noted that 91 percent of American high schools start later than Montgomery County’s current high school start time. “My children do not get enough sleep at all,” said parent Erica Hauver. “Our high schools are the worst in the country for school starting times. We are the bottom nine percent.”
Many students from elementary and middle schools were present at the protest.
“My brother is in high school. His alarm wakes me up very early in the morning, even though he doesn’t wake up,” said Josh, who goes to Pyle Middle School in Bethesda.
“Students and teachers at my school are tired first-period,” said Ana, another middle school student at the protest.
Many studies have been conducted in the past decade, which support later school-start times. A study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that having students get out of bed at earlier hours can harm both academic performance and health.
Nevertheless, Montgomery County has actually made school start-times earlier within the span of the last few decades. “When I was a child I went to Churchill High School, and in those days school didn’t start until after eight o’clock,” observed another protest organizer, Michael Rubenstein.
One group of students from Westland Middle School in Bethesda expressed that they were at the event to “make sure that [they] don’t have to get up earlier than they already do” when they arrive at high school.
At the event, students sung chants and bore signs reading whimsical phrases like “My 11th grade brother falls asleep on the couch everyday when he gets home,” and “$15M on Chromebooks, but nothing done to help us get more sleep.”
Outgoing Superintendent Joshua Starr has said that the Board of Education should only consider options for changing start times that are low or no cost, such as moving all start times for elementary, middle, and high schools back by twenty minutes. Although many parents believe that this wouldn’t go far enough, the controversy over Dr. Starr’s contract may make the Board of Education less willing to enact sweeping start times changes.
MCPS teachers received an email today from the teacher’s union, the Montgomery County Education Association, highlighting a survey in which an overwhelming majority of teachers oppose the proposed changes. The survey results stressed that the proposed changes may cause problems for students involved in sports, extracurricular activities, and sibling care after school.
However, not all teachers feel this way. As one teacher stated about the union survey, “these are shocking results, as most of my high school colleagues and I would love to sleep an extra 30 minutes. And most high school students I have interviewed, even athletes, are adamant about their need for increased sleep.”
Reeves says that the school start-times debate is not about “weighing the opinions; it’s about weighing the evidence.”
The Board of Education will vote on proposals to push these times back tomorrow, February 10, 2015.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Darian Garcia with contributions by staff writer Zoey Tang
Image by MoCo Student staff writer Zoey Tang