Tonight the Fairfax County School Board voted 11-1 for later high school start times starting September 2015. It was an emotional evening for some of the school board members as well as supporters of the proposal in the auditorium.
FCPS has already issued a press release:
Citing the clear health benefits for adolescents, the Fairfax County School Board approved a recommendation for starting high schools later, between 8 and 8:10 a.m. and ending between 2:45 and 2:55 p.m. This change, which will begin in the 2015-16 school year, will benefit more than 57,000 high school students representing more than 30 percent of Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) student population.
The School Board’s decision reflects a start time change for all four years of high school, a crucial period for students’ college-preparatory or work-readiness years as well as their athletic engagements and other activities. As a part of the decision, the School Board approved later start times for all middle and high school students who attend the three FCPS secondary schools.
Middle school students will attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. The elementary school window remains unchanged with elementary school students beginning their day between 8 and 9:20 a.m. All elementary schools will start at the same time or within 5 to 10 minutes of their current start time.
“The issue of later start times has been debated and explored for more than a decade in this community,” said Tammy Derenak-Kaufax, School Board chairman. “The growing body of research on the health benefits for adolescents has become so clear and compelling, we felt that we had to make a change.”
In August, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement that recommended later start times so that school schedules would be aligned with the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents. Other research indicates sleep-deprived students have shortened attention spans, slower reaction time, lower test scores, poorer grades, increased rates of depression, and higher risk of car crashes.
The School Board’s approval of the new start times schedule for the 2015-16 school year will allow families and employees almost a full calendar year to adjust to the change.
“We believe it is best to give our families and employees plenty of time to adjust to a change of this magnitude,” said Superintendent Karen Garza. “Between now and next September, we will work with intention to finalize bell schedules and to make needed adjustments to ensure that this is a smooth transition for our stakeholders and our community.”
The change will require the addition of 27 buses at a cost of $4.9 million.
Superintendent Garza developed a recommendation to alter high school start times after extensive discussions and community outreach over the last two years. Beginning in June 2012, the School Board held six work sessions to discuss the issue. In addition, eight community meetings were held between May 19 and June 11, 2014, during which approximately 1,000 participants shared their opinions on four options. In conjunction with the community meetings, more than 2,000 comments were gathered through online feedback.
The Fairfax County School Board adopted a resolution in April 2012 to seek solutions to establish high school start times at 8 a.m. or later.
Following the adoption of the resolution, Children’s National Medical Center’s (CNMC) Division of Sleep Medicine worked with a stakeholder committee and initiated a process to develop a Blueprint for Change. The committee studied several workable scenarios to start high schools in Fairfax County after 8 a.m. in an effort to improve students’ mental and physical health, academic performance, and safety. The scenarios were presented to the School Board earlier this year.
For more details, visit the Later High School Start Times web page.
Kathy Smith (Sully) voted against the change in schedule, citing concerns about the cost and objections expressed by some of her constituents.