Garza recommends later start time for Fairfax high schools


File: Fairfax Superintendent Karen Garza is recommending a later start time for high schools. (Donnie Biggs/Fairfax County Public Schools)

This story has been updated.

The first classes of the day at Fairfax County high schools in 2015 could begin after 8 a.m. under a plan being considered by the school district administration.

Fairfax County schools superintendent Karen Garza said that she endorsed a proposal to push back the start of high school classes by at least 40 minutes as part of a long-enduring effort to help teens get more sleep, provided that the plan could be modified to start middle schools earlier but after 7:30 a.m. The proposal likely would cost more than $5,580,000 in new buses.

In April, the school board began a series of community meetings to showcase four options developed by sleep experts with Children’s National Medical Center to star classes later. In a meeting on Monday, Garza said she supported the third option, which would move the beginning of high school classes to after 8 a.m.

Fairfax’s consideration of the issue comes as the Montgomery County school board is wrestling with the same concerns. The Montgomery superintendent recommended rejecting a plan for a later high school start time, but the board of education has asked him to find lower-cost options, citing Fairfax’s progress on the issue.

In Fairfax, Children’s sleep expert Judith Owens said that she believed the new proposal would lead to at least an extra hour of sleep for high school students.

School board member Kathy Smith (Sully) said that members of the community have asked for a fifth option — no change to the bell schedule — that she said was not being considered seriously by the administration.

“I understand a lot of people don’t care what the community thinks because it’s going to happen no matter what,” said Smith, noting that she believed that the administration should allow for additional meetings to let the public comment on the new proposal before it’s official.

School board vice chair Ted Velkoff (At Large) said that he hoped that the sleep experts at Children’s could provide data to ensure that the schedule change will actually lead to better health among Fairfax teens.

“My hope is we would ask these folks to bring some sort of hypothesis of what we’re getting for the money we’re going to spend,” Velkoff said.

School board member Sandy Evans (Mason) said that she believes the schedule changes are the best option to improve teens’ well-being.

“This is absolutely critical to teen health,” Evans said. “I’m convinced of that.”

At meeting, Evans asked Garza to weigh in on the possibility of using option 3 as the basis for the later-start time proposal.

“More people are saying that Option 3 gives us at least a framework for moving forward. Is that your desire to have option 3 as a Framework for you to use?,” Evans asked.

“Yes,” Garza replied, noting that the details of modifying the third option would be settled with Jeff Platenberg, the assistant superintendent who oversees transportation. “It’s fully my expectation that we'll take option 3 and we’ll make some modifications to that, some tweaking to that. . .So yes I think option 3 with some Modifications.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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