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), voted to develop a system-wide goal of starting high schools after 8 a.m. and tasked staff with researching the history of school start times and report back to the board on Monday, June 11.
In the past 14 years, 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 co-founded Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (SLEEP) in 2004 to advocate for later high school start times.
The debate 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 for the start of the 2012-2013 school year.
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.