Comments roll in with support for Montgomery proposal to give teens more sleep

Montgomery County’s proposal to change the hours of high school days is attracting a daily stream of e-mailed opinions, with a large number favoring the changes intended to give teenagers more time to sleep.

John Matthews, who led a district-created work group studying Montgomery’s bell times, said this week that he has read all the comments submitted — several hundred so far — and has generally observed support for the idea.

Among those who objected, he said, many took issue with the proposal’s effect on elementary school hours.

The proposal, offered Oct. 1 by Superintendent Joshua P. Starr, would reset the opening bells of high school to 8:15 a.m., nearly an hour later. To help make that shift, middle school would start at 7:45 a.m., 10 minutes earlier.

Under the proposal, elementary school students would see their school days extended by 30 minutes, with later afternoon dismissals.

“There is fairly universal support for the high school proposal,” Matthews said. “Where the support breaks down is where you get into what the elementary school day is going to look like.”

The district is in the process of creating a work group to make recommendations on how to best use the extra half hour of the elementary school day.

Matthews said a smaller number of commenters simply did not want a later-starting high school day. Some elaborated by saying they did not believe students would get more sleep, but instead just stay up later.

The 56-page report issued by Matthews’s work group included references to research showing that students at schools that had shifted to later start times got more sleep.

Matthews said no numerical breakdown of e-mailed comments has been prepared yet. The comment period will remain open for several more months.

The school board is expected to take up the issue again next year. As community input is collected, school officials will also conduct a more thorough cost analysis, as well as hold discussions with transportation officials about the impact on county traffic.

Comments may be e-mailed to belltimes@mcpsmd.org. In addition, community meetings are scheduled for Dec. 16, Jan. 6 and Feb. 10. The school system is also encouraging neighbor-to-neighbor discussions of the issue.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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