Poolesville poll: Student views on proposal to change high school start times

The poll was informal. It included 60 students at one Montgomery County high school who happened to come together to represent their classmates at a town hall meeting recently held by Superintendent Joshua P. Starr.

But the results were a portrait of divergent student views as Montgomery’s school community begins to weigh in on a new proposal to shift the earliest bells of high school to 8:15 a.m., nearly an hour later than they are now.

Starr opened the student town hall at Poolesville High School Thursday by raising the issue of “bell times” and conducting the poll, which was done using handheld devices that allowed each student to register an anonymous opinion that was instantly tabulated.

The issue: What level of support did students feel for a shift in schedules so that the first classes of high school would start at 8:15 a.m.? High school classes now begin at 7:25 a.m., and the change is designed to allow students to get more sleep in the morning.

The student audience was not a full representative sample of Montgomery students. It was a relatively small group, from a high-performing magnet school in the western county. During a question-and-answer period, one teenager asked about intellectual property rights. Another asked about managing stress from heavily demanding courseloads.

The results of the instant poll showed a divide:

Those with the most passionate views were evenly split: The poll showed 20.8 percent strongly in favor, with the exact number — to the decimal point — strongly opposed.

But overall, the poll showed more support for the idea.

Nearly 53 percent said they would strongly or somewhat support the idea.

Almost 35 percent said they would strongly or somewhat oppose it.

Slightly more than 8 percent were neutral.

“We know kids need more sleep,” Starr told his audience during a discussion. “The research is very clear on that.”

Starr offered the proposal Oct. 1 as the district released a 56-page report on the issue, which started with an online petition launched by a Garrett Park parent last fall that quickly attracted more than 10,000 names.

School officials say they will now examine the Starr proposal’s potential effects on students, staff and families. A first community meeting is set for Oct. 28 at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville.

Schools spokesman Dana Tofig said the Poolesville poll was a first, but cautioned that “our district is so diverse that some of the issues that may concern students in Poolesville may not concern those at (John F.) Kennedy (High School) and vice versa.” Tofig called it “a glimpse at the thoughts of students from one school.”

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

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