School board votes for later high school start times

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.

School board likely to approve later start times for high schools

The Fairfax County School Board will vote tonight on later start times for high schools.  In her newsletter, Chairman Tammy Derenak Kaufax says she will vote “yes,” because “changing start times gives our children the opportunity to sleep later and, in turn, our students can have improved health, greater quality of life and better school performance.”

SLEEP: Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal for Fairfax County VA Schools has posted a brief summary of the agenda item:

Moving Towards A Positive Change For Our Children!

The school board is another step closer to reaching its goal to start high schools at or after 8 a.m. With strong consensus, the board agreed to post Superintendent Garza’s preferred plan as New Business on September 18th and will vote on the plan on October 23rd. The preferred plan for implementation in 2015-2016 is a significant improvement over the current situation. In addition, Dr. Garza indicated her goal to continue working to get the middle school start times closer to 8 a.m. in the future! We support the board’s work and tremendous progress on this issue.


High school schedule

Middle school schedule

Elementary school schedule



7:20 – 8:05

8:00 – 9:20

Preferred Plan with length of day = 6 h 45 m

8:00 – 8:10


8:00 – 9:20

Implementation of this scenario means that all Fairfax students will have a start time after 8 a.m. for at least ten or eleven of their thirteen years in Fairfax County. And, secondary school students may entirely avoid start times before 8 a.m., which will be a relief to families who have had to suffer the painfully early starts for six years in a row up to now. This option may not be perfect, but it is a big improvement over the current schedule that has many middle and all high school students starting at 7:20 a.m.

This option retains the current schedules of the elementary schools and continues to dismiss older siblings in time to provide after-school care for younger siblings. The impact on sports and extra-curricular activities is minimal. FCPS will continue to offer a middle school after-school program five days a week that is free of charge.

One major accomplishment of the FCPS Transportation staff in the CNMC Blueprint for Change is the elimination of extra-early school arrival times, what is known as the “false tier.” High school students and many middle school students are currently delivered to school 20-35 minutes prior to the bell. The new plan narrows that delivery window to 10 or 15 minutes, and gives the extra time in the morning to families rather than having students cool their heels in school buildings. This means that high school buses will arrive at school 65-75 minutes later than many do now. The net effect also helps offset the change for middle schools that shift earlier.


SNA calls for flexibility in school lunch rules

On October 7, School Nutrition Association CEO Patti Montague submitted the following letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to its recent article:

“How School Lunch Became the Latest Political Battleground” (Oct. 7) ignored critical failures of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) overly prescriptive school meal regulations and misrepresented the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) advocacy efforts, specifically omitting policy solutions proposed by school nutrition professionals.

SNA members have consistently supported strong federal nutrition standards for school meals, including limits on calories and fat, mandates to offer students more fruits and vegetables, and reasonable sodium and whole grain requirements. Those on the frontlines in school cafeterias nationwide are merely asking for common-sense flexibility under the most stringent requirements.

School nutrition professionals nationwide have struggled to plan menus that meet these complex regulatory requirements but still appeal to students. The goal of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was to have more students eating healthy school lunches, but under these regulations, USDA data show more than one million fewer students choose school lunch each day. Students are choosing convenience food over meals that offer milk, fruits and vegetables, while declining meal sales rob schools of revenue for additional menu improvements.

The financial pressure will only intensify. USDA estimates that in Fiscal Year 2015, local school districts and states must absorb $1.22 billion in new food, labor and administrative costs under the regulations, amounting to a 10 cent increase in the cost of preparing each school lunch and a 27 cent increase for breakfast.

Without relief, more paying students will leave the cafeteria, increasing the stigma on students who rely on free school meals, and draining school district budgets in the process.

SNA is asking USDA and Congress to provide common-sense flexibility under the rules to help schools limit waste, manage costs and encourage more students to choose healthy school lunches. Specifically, SNA’s requests are:

  • Maintain the 2012 requirement that half of grains offered be whole grain rich, instead of requiring that all grains be whole grain rich.

  • Maintain Target 1 sodium levels, and suspend further reductions until scientific research supports them.To avoid food waste, offer, but do not require students to take a fruit or vegetable.Allow healthy items permitted on the meal line to be sold a la carte as well.

See also I support the School Nutrition Association proposals.

I support the School Nutrition Association proposals

The most recent New York Times article on school lunch controversies was written by Nicholas Confessore, a political correspondent. His article focuses on personalities and doesn’t address the substance of the advocacy of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) for changes in some of the new regulations.

He calls the members of SNA “lunch ladies,” a term he says that almost nobody in Washington uses in public and almost everyone uses in private.

The consistent use of this term throughout the article adds to a dismissive bias against critics of certain regulations. I think that Congress should change some school lunch requirements. Perhaps the Times should assign some of its science reporters to explain the scientific, rather than the political, controversies on subjects such as salt and fat.

It is misleading to imply that this is a contest between politicians and scientists. At one point in the article, Confessore describes the School Nutrition Association as “isolated.” He cites other organizations that opposed the one-year waiver of some of the school meal standards.

So, instead of trying to explain the rationale behind certain rules, such as the amount of sodium in school lunches and breakfasts, the Times instead subtly tries to persuade its readers to ignore the “isolated” lunch ladies. The article refers to the federal dietary guidelines for sodium, but does not note the new studies questioning these guidelines or the Times editorial noting these questions.

Is this an article about the latest fashions, or the latest in the science of nutrition?

I support the school lunch ladies.





Herrity to seek federal reimbursement for unaccompanied minors from Central America

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement says that there are 1,131 unaccompanied minors from Central America living in Fairfax County, 417 in Prince William County, and 227 in Loudoun County, according to a Washington Post article.

Fairfax County supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) said that Fairfax County would spend more than $14 million to educate these children if they all enroll in school, based on a per-pupil cost of $14,755 for each student served by the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Program. Currently ESOL serves over 36,000 students.

“Herrity said he expects to request funding from the federal government after he knows what the costs are,” the Post reports.

“We’ll look at what avenue or avenues there are for us and hopefully make a decision to seek reimbursement,” Herrity said. “It really is a federal responsibility, and Fairfax County’s being hit pretty heavily.”

When I think of the budgetary constraints that have made school reforms in Fairfax so difficult to achieve over the past two decades, as well as the number of times that pay raises were put on hold, it is pretty discouraging to see that Fairfax is being burdened with such large costs. I agree that the federal government should provide some reimbursement.

Fairfax County crossing guards assist in traffic direction

Kate Yanchulis reports that Fairfax County crossing guards receive expanded training which adds a step to their routine. “After halting traffic to allow children to cross, a crossing guard can determine whether they should allow cars in or out of the school parking lot before letting traffic resume normally.”

The police department noticed that the crossing guards had been attempting to provide traffic direction when cars crowded school drop-off and pick-up lines. So the department decided to provide extra training so that they would be qualified to provide traffic direction.

The article notes that in 1969, nearly 50 percent of elementary and middle school students walked or biked to school. “Forty years later, the total dropped to 13 percent, according to a 2009 U.S. Department of Transportation survey.”

More private meetings should be allowed

I’m glad to see another skeptical view of the benefits of laws requiring overly broad requirements for open meetings. Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, writes “Deliberation, collaboration and compromise rarely flourish in front of TV cameras or when monitored by special interests.”

In regards to the Fairfax County School Board, I earlier asked the question, Is too much transparency preventing problem-solving actions?

We should allow groups of school board members to meet together without requiring that the public be invited to each event. The current restrictions on private meetings may discourage thoughtful discussions that could possibly lead to improvements or reforms.

A shorter answer on full-day Mondays would have been better

One of the answers in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) document posted by Fairfax County Public Schools regarding full-day Mondays is somewhat misleading.

The question:

Why this (Full-Day Mondays) is a priority when there have been severe budget cuts, pay freezes, and destaffs: Why are those needs being ignored and this taking priority?

The answer:

The priority has been to ensure we meet the instructional needs of students and maximize instructional time. The change to full-day Mondays for elementary schools was done to create dedicated planning time for teachers and meet state accreditation requirements for instruction. FCPS was only able to meet the required 180 days or 990 hours of instruction when we had inclement weather by adding time or days to the school year. Additional staff may be hired to help ensure planning time for teachers.

Yes, it is certainly true that one of the main reasons for implementing full-day Mondays was to “meet state accreditation requirements for instruction.”

However, it is misleading to imply that inclement weather was the only challenging aspect of meeting the required 180 days or 990 hours of instruction. Even if there was no time at all lost due to inclement weather, Fairfax County elementary school students were still short of the required time. The only way they could have met the state standards would have been to limit the amount of time for recess to 10 minutes per day.

So, a short answer to this question would have been better. As School Board Chairman Tamara Derenak Kaufax explained in a letter sent to Sharon Bulova, “The timing of the decision after the FY 2015 budget was approved was not our normal process, but FCPS was not in compliance with state requirements to provide a minimum of 990-hours of instruction with an early release on Mondays.”

Should incumbents share their email lists with challengers?

Montgomery County will vote Tuesday on a proposal by council member Phil Andrews (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg) to publicly fund elections. Washington Post reporter Bill Turque writes that “public funding does not seriously disrupt the traditional advantages enjoyed by incumbents.”

Another approach to giving new candidates a way of reaching voters could be in allowing them to send messages to individuals who sign up for email updates from local office-holders.

Perhaps there could be a system devised for allowing qualified candidates to send out a limited number of emails during the months prior to an election. The email address databases are part of the local government. It seems to me that the strength of the local government depends in part on having well-informed voters.

The ability of the members of the Fairfax County School Board to communicate with large numbers of interested constituents has been greatly improved in recent years by the use of newsletters that they send out. When an election comes around, it might be helpful to voters to receive a limited number of emails from other candidates for the school board.

Should use of electronic devices be discouraged in most classes?

Why a leading professor of new media just banned technology use in class. Clay Shirky says that multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work:

This effect takes place over more than one time frame — even when multi-tasking doesn’t significantly degrade immediate performance, it can have negative long-term effects on “declarative memory”, the kind of focused recall that lets people characterize and use what they learned from earlier studying. (Multi-tasking thus makes the famous “learned it the day before the test, forgot it the day after” effect even more pernicious.)

Shirky concludes, “The final realization — the one that firmly tipped me over into the “No devices in class” camp — was this: screens generate distraction in a manner akin to second-hand smoke.”

He says, “Allowing laptop use in class is like allowing boombox use in class–it lets each person choose whether to degrade the experience of those around them.”

Shirky is discussing college classes in this interesting article cited by the Washington Post.