FILE: Second Grader Diego Rodriguez in a near whisper tells Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr the project he's working on at Wheaton Woods Elementary School. Starr has recommended that all the county’s public schools start 20 minutes later. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Should public schools in Montgomery County start 2o minutes later in the morning to help weary teenagers get a little more sleep?

Or perhaps the youngest children should start their school day earliest, with high schoolers heading to classes afterward.

With a set of new proposals for shifting school hours up for public comment, Montgomery County is expecting dozens of people Thursday to testify at two hearings on how to remake school schedules — or whether to keep them as they are.

Advocates for change have argued that the 7:25 a.m. opening bell at Montgomery’s 25 high schools should be put back to boost the health and well-being of sleep-deprived adolescents.

School officials are offering five main options for public consideration, with a variety of associated approaches. They say each of the proposals would cost less than $10 million a year, as the school board requested last June.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr has recommended that the board choose one of the no-cost options if it does want to make a change, and his preference is a 20-minutes-later approach for all of the district’s 202 schools.

“It gets us part of the way there,” Starr said this month. “It’s a partial measure, but it does do something to address the issue.”

Montgomery’s elementary school classes begin at 8:50 a.m. or 9:15 a.m. Middle schools start at 7:55 a.m., with high schools starting earliest, at 7:25 a.m.

The school board last week expanded the possibilities under public consideration by adding a variant to its no-cost options.

Under that scenario, secondary schools would start 20 minutes later, with the start of elementary schools put back by 10 minutes. Alternatively, secondary schools might start 35 minutes later, with elementary schools beginning 25 minutes later than they do now.

The Thursday hearings — one in the afternoon and the other in the evening — are part of an effort that dates to 2012, when parents launched an online petition calling for high school classes to begin at 8:15 a.m. or later. It has garnered more than 12,700 online signatures.

Supporters of later high school start times cite research showing that teens are biologically wired for later bedtimes and later waking. Experts say lack of sleep is linked to lower academic performance, absenteeism, and an increased risk of depression and car crashes. Teenagers need between 8  1/2 and 9 1/2 hours of sleep a night, expert say.

Parent Mandi Mader, a psychotherapist who treats adolescents and launched the 2012 petition, said her group opposes Starr’s recommendation of a 20-minute change. “We know they can do better for low cost or no cost,” she said.

Mader said her group supports start times as close to 8:30 a.m. as possible for high school and middle school students, and objects to changes that would leave children of any age walking to school in the dark.

“We’re excited for the discussion,” Mader said.

School officials said Tuesday that slots were still available for those interested in testifying Thursday. Written comments also may be submitted through Feb. 2 at: belltimes@mcpsmd.org. A school board vote is expected in February.