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School Board Members Lean Against Changing Bell Times

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Fairfax County School Board yesterday indicated its firm opposition to a proposal that would have altered school schedules and rearranged bus routes next fall for all 169,000 county students, largely to give teenage students more sleep.

"I think we need to put sleep to bed," Vice Chairman Tessie Wilson (Braddock) said at yesterday's work session, referring to the parent-led movement to start high schools later in the morning and give teenagers schedules that match their body clocks. "We can't find a solution, because there isn't one that will satisfy everyone."

School Board members agreed that the proposal would have too many negative repercussions for families, but they disagreed on whether to shut the door permanently on some parents' hopes of giving teenagers more sleep-friendly schedules.

A vote to confirm the position taken by members at the work session and clarify the next steps is scheduled for March 19.

Wilson and others cited decade-old reports that document familiar roadblocks to changing school times, including arranging child care, managing traffic and scheduling sports and after-school activities.

Other board members suggested ways to chip away at problems in a system that was called at times "abominable" or "uncivilized" and requires some students to be at bus stops at 5:45 a.m.

Board member James L. Raney (At Large) proposed expanding the school system's online course offerings so that more students could take a first- or last-period class online, and board member Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence) suggested a longer-term approach to shorten bus rides and improve very early pickup times or very late drop-off times.

He said the plan would amount to an "evolution and not revolution" and would balance teen health needs with the other needs of families.

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