Later school start times: When will they happen?

by Alex Dembeck, Reporter

Countless numbers of high school students stay up late each night trying to balance school and extracurricular activities and then have to turn around after an average of fewer than six hours of sleep and start their days once more.

According to Ms. Dawn Murphy, psychology and history teacher, “Teens need nine to nine and a half hours of sleep for optimal health and brain development. Their brains are going through an important phase of development that involves pruning away neural connections that are not being used…”.  This weekly late night routine is extremely harmful for teens and can lead to many mental and physical complications.

For more than a year, the members of the FCPS school board have been discussing delaying the start times for both middle and high school. This discussion was started after the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report about students not getting enough sleep during the school year due to the unreasonably early start times.

The late starting times for Frederick County were initially supposed to be tested the 2018-2019 school year by Walkersville elementary, middle, and high schools, but this never went into action.

According to the Frederick News Post, the school board then discussed this change again at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year and discussed the benefits and downfalls of pushing middle and high school back 30 minutes and elementary school back 15 minutes. After these discussions, the question that many people are asking is when will FCPS decide to implement this change in its schools?

The concern of the predawn school day starts has grown to the point that organizations such as Start School Later, also known as SSL, have grown. This national organization has chapters located all over the country and has helped change the start times in multiple counties in Maryland, including Anne Arundel County.

Before the 2017-2018 school year, Anne Arundel County schools began high school at 7:13. This was Maryland’s earliest high school start time. The SSL organization then worked with the school board and found a way to change the start time to 7:30 for high school and delayed the elementary and middle schools by 15 minutes. This change, though small, was the first of many potential steps to change Anne Arundel county’s start times for future students.

According to Lisa VanBuskirk, Maryland and Anne Arundel County chapter leader, Washington County’s high schools start at 8:45 and middle schools start at 7:45. According to SSL, this start time for high school is ideal but the middle schools could use some improvements. 

Like the School Start Later program, Mr. Fred Punturiero, FCPS Director of Transportation, wants what is best for students. 

Punturiero said, “Even though you’re going to be starting later in the morning, remember that you are going to be getting out later. If you play sports or are a part of an after school committee, those things are going to be different for you guys…but for a bus schedule nothing is going to change other than the timing.”

He described how the change will have a greater impact on the students than anything else. In order to give them the opportunity for more sleep, it takes away time for homework and other activities. When asked about the cost, Punturiero said that cost analysis has not begun, but will begin later this year along with the beginning of the project to change school start times.

He said, “I’m all about learning and learning is important making sure our students reach their highest potential. The study shows it will help our high schoolers greatly and the board supports it… I really want everyone to be successful.”

Mrs. Nancy Doll, Principal, is also in favor of changing the times. Doll, like many others have doubts about whether students are going to take advantage of the later times.

She said, “I’m not sure they’re going to get more sleep if we change the start time, but I think for them [teenagers], they’re more night owls than they are early morning people, and I think that’s part of the chemistry of teenagers, it’s better if the start time is later.”

Doll also expressed concern about students of all age, whether in elementary or high school waiting at the bus stops that are typically in the dark. She explained how starting later would potentially make it safer for students to get to and from school.

She also said that later start times is always a discussion that comes up periodically. “I know that they are eventually going to pilot the idea in the Walkersville feeder area to start at 8, and if that works out they may potentially transfer this project to other schools.”

School Start Later chapter leader Lisa VanBuskirk is also looking for parent and student volunteers to organize a Frederick chapter of the School Start Later Program. If interested, she can be contacted at [email protected]