In Defense of Later High School Start Times

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Here are more responses to the Sept. 4 column ["Early Bedtimes Work, Too, for Sleep-Deprived Teens"], which suggested that teens don't need later high school start times.

Dear Extra Credit:

Fairfax County public schools dedicate a lot of money and effort to addressing the minority achievement gap. The current bell schedule, however, affects low-income high school students more adversely, because they don't always have the options available to students from wealthier families.

Well-off families are more likely to have the option of driving their children to school and are more likely to be able to afford to provide them cars. Less than half of high school students get to school by bus. At least 10 percent fewer students take the bus to school in the morning than take it home in the afternoon; most of the 10 percent are students who are driven to school.

Many lower-income families and single-parent families don't have these options. Consequently, a higher proportion of low-income students are required to take the early buses to school. The current bell schedule does not support the county's efforts at addressing the minority achievement gap.

Walt Carlson

Fairfax County

Dear Extra Credit:

When I wake up in the morning, I have to walk really slowly because I'm so sleepy that I bump into walls and get bruises. When I think of school, I associate it with being tired, so I look forward to the weekend mainly because I like getting enough sleep.

My dad gets home at 7:30 p.m., so I never get to eat dinner with him because, on my schedule, I would have to eat three hours earlier. I'm failing math class because I'm too sleepy by 7:30 p.m. to have my dad help me with my homework. It's hard for me to fall asleep at 8 or 9 p.m., so I have to take homeopathic supplements. When I get enough sleep, as I do in the summer, I lose weight, but when I don't get enough, my body stores fat, which lowers my self-confidence. There are more people like me who have many problems because of early start times.

Liana Bennett

Herndon High School sophomore

Dear Extra Credit:

We love the school start times in eastern Loudoun County!

Our neighborhood buses pick up elementary school students and deliver them at 7:30 a.m. for the 7:50 school start. The buses then pick up the middle school children in time for their 8:30 a.m. start, after which the buses pick up the high-schoolers and deliver them for their 9 a.m. start. This succession of school openings by age group seems to complement their biological clocks very nicely. We all know that elementary school children wake well before teenagers.

Kristin Rappe

Potomac Falls

Dear Extra Credit:

Although I initially supported the later start times, I am starting to lean more toward the opinion of the reader who opposes the initiative. My primary reasons are the cost of the change and the disruptions it would cause in our county. Fairfax schools imposed budget cuts this year that increased the ratio of students to teachers in our high school. Further cuts are under consideration for next year, with suggestions that could affect high school freshmen sports programs. I feel strongly that organized sports are extremely important in the development of middle and high school students, particularly in keeping boys and girls from getting into trouble in their spare time. Special education is also in need of more funding. Given the budget situation, I would strongly oppose spending the additional money for later start times. I think it is much more important to focus on basic educational and developmental needs.

I also echo the comments of the reader about the disruption the later start times would cause. I am particularly opposed to the middle schools starting at almost 9:30 a.m. When would there be time for after-school sports if the students are in school until 4:30 p.m.? Older students would no longer be able to watch their younger siblings after elementary school. Teachers and staff members would have to reorganize their lives.

I suspect that if a systemwide vote were taken, you might see a very different opinion, given the budget situation. I think there should be other priorities.

Denise Ahola


Dear Extra Credit:

As a mother of four, I feel strongly about later start times for students. In my experience, many teens struggle to awaken before the crack of dawn. With our neighborhood's bus schedule, the kids in our community must awaken while it is still dark out so they will have sufficient time to shower, dress and eat breakfast before going to the bus stop. The result of this is that many students, because they feel sleepy, have difficulty concentrating in their early classes. Some students fall asleep at their desks in their first-period classes.

Helen Yedigarian


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