Dear Extra Credit:

I found the response to Steve Dennett's Oct. 21 letter regarding start times for Fairfax County middle and high school students especially interesting since it was published in the same issue that highlighted the need for supervised after-school activities for teenagers.

It seems to me that the easiest answer to both the transportation and after-school care issues would be to move the middle and high school start times to, say, 11 a.m., with a dismissal time around 5 p.m. That would allow the buses to pick up elementary school students at their traditional start times while still leaving ample time for the buses to begin their high school runs, alleviating the need for additional buses.

And by keeping the middle and high school students in school until 5 p.m., you would address the growing concern about unsupervised teenagers getting involved with drugs, gangs, alcohol and crime.

And you would address the need for supervised after-school programs outlined in your article.

Paul Dewey

Herndon

Herndon High School parent

What an interesting idea! My answer last week to the question of teenage sleep deficits was grossly inadequate, which I realized when I started to get several e-mails making suggestions and providing information much better than mine.

Elaine S. Furlow, a School Board member in Arlington County, reminded me that her board has managed since 2001 to move the high school starting time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:19 a.m. Loudoun County has also made some progress on this.

Barbara Roach of Mount Vernon said she recently moved from Georgia's Fulton County school system, where elementary school children start early and high school students start late.

I said Fairfax school officials worried about small children catching buses or walking in the morning darkness, but Roach asks a good question about that: "Realistically, how many elementary school-age children do you know who commute to school alone in this day and age? Nearly all of them are walked to school or escorted to the school bus by an adult, so this age group would seem the safest to be traveling at this early hour."

She said working parents liked the Georgia schedule because "it allowed for those with small children to see their children off to school and still leave for their jobs at a reasonable hour without arranging for morning child care."

And despite the Fairfax County School Board's failure to find a solution so far, there are parents working hard on it. Glasgow Middle School parent Sandy Evans informed me that she and Phyllis Payne, a Bailey's Elementary and Frost Middle School parent, have formed an organization called SLEEP (Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal).

SLEEP has been working with several School Board members. It has an online petition with 3,400 names and a Web site, www.SLEEPinFairfax.org. with the latest teen sleep research.

Evans said many in her group think elementary schools could start earlier than they do now without children having to wait in the dark, since some now start as late as 9:15. Then those buses could be sent to pick up high schoolers next and middle schoolers last.

"Putting high school before middle school has two advantages," she said. "There would still be plenty of time after school for high school extracurricular activities, and the middle schoolers would have less time home alone after school."

Now that my children are adults and responsible for their own mistakes, I will leave other parents to debate this interesting question: Are middle schoolers more likely than high schoolers to do things at home after school that would make us gasp? But it looks as if there is still a chance that Fairfax youth, innocent or otherwise, may be sleeping later in the future.

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