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School Start Time Changes Shelved; Group Says 'Inaction' Will Harm Students

A plan to change school start times has been shelved in the Montgomery County Public Schools. The group Start School Later says the "inaction" will hurt students.

A plan to change school start times has been shelved in the Montgomery County Public Schools, and the group Start School Later says the "inaction" will hurt students. File|Patch
A plan to change school start times has been shelved in the Montgomery County Public Schools, and the group Start School Later says the "inaction" will hurt students. File|Patch

A plan to change school start times has been shelved in the Montgomery County Public Schools because of an estimated $20 million cost to implement the changes and mixed feedback from the community, leaders said.

The Board of Education was scheduled to vote on the change June 17, Patch earlier reported. And a parents’ group that supported the later start times for high school students said the superintendent’s “inaction” will add to sleep deprivation and harm teens.

While Superintendent Joshua P. Starr does not plan to include the additional funding in his fiscal year 2016 budget, he said the topic of start times could be revisited.

“I recommended we study changing bell times because I believe it is an important issue that deserves our attention,” Starr told Montgomery Community Media. “But after receiving the final cost estimates, along with mixed feedback from our community, I do not believe it is feasible or responsible to move forward with these changes at this time. However, we will continue to discuss and monitor this issue.”

The local chapter of Start School Later issued a statement criticizing Starr for his decision. 

“Today, a year after M.C.P.S. Superintendent Joshua Starr proposed delaying high school start times, he backtracked, announcing his opposition to his own proposal. We are shocked and appalled by his decision,” the group’s statement said. “He is choosing to ignore the overwhelming body of research documenting the benefits of later start times for teens.” 

In October Starr suggested that the change would allow teenagers to get more sleep and align the elementary school education time with other school systems in the state.

Starr’s proposal came after a work group, formed in December 2012, studied the start times for public schools in the area and looked at whether a change is needed from a health standpoint.

“Many high school students who need to rise early for school struggle to get sufficient sleep,” Starr wrote in his report. “For example, to obtain nine hours of sleep, a high school student who needs to rise at 6 a.m., as would be typical in MCPS where students may need to catch the bus by 6:45 a.m., would need to be asleep by 9 p.m., which is not only unlikely for a variety of reasons, but also counter to adolescent physiology. When high school start times are moved later, available research shows that students do take advantage of the opportunity to get more sleep rather than simply staying up later.”

The Start School Later group’s statement in full says:

“In a press statement released today, justifying inaction, Dr. Starr makes several spurious arguments.

“He claims that the costs are too high, citing a cost of more than $20 million. We dispute his figures.  School systems around the country have managed to make the change at minimal cost. He also argued that the costs must be balanced against other priorities. What could be a higher priority than the health of our children?

“He said that feedback from the community was mixed. In fact, support from parents and physicians was overwhelmingly in favor. Both students and bus drivers were less supportive, but clearly it's the doctors and parents who understand the daily toll this is taking on their children. 

“Dr. Starr made the mistake of cramming together two unrelated proposals -- changing bell times and extending the elementary school day by 30 minutes. Each issue needs to be judged on its own merits. In fact, much of the overall cost, and opposition, was generated by the proposal to extend the school day.

“Finally, he suggested delaying action until the results of a statewide study due by the end of this year. The purpose of the legislation mandating the study was to encourage leadership, not to provide a cover for inaction.

“The bottom line is that Dr. Starr is making excuses and the children will pay the price.”

The proposed times would have high school students start school at 8:15 a.m. instead of the current 7:25 a.m. start time. High school students would then be dismissed at 3 p.m., 40 minutes later than the current dismissal time.

There would be no change to the start time for elementary school students, but the dismissal time for students would be 30 minutes later than current dismissal time.

The smallest change would come for middle school students, who would start school ten minutes earlier at 7:45 a.m. and get out of school ten minutes earlier at 2:30 p.m.

Bob June 11, 2014 at 10:41 AM
$20m additional cost. Drop in the bucket considering $2.25 billion annual budget.
Deb Emerich Stahl June 11, 2014 at 12:11 PM
HS students should absolutely have later start times - but elementary day runs late for many kids as it is. Not convinced anyone tried very hard to make this work.

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