The Washington Post

Montgomery schools to receive new report on start times

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the Montgomery County school board planned to discuss and vote on school start time recommendations next week. There is no vote planned. The story has been updated.

Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr in 2011. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

It’s a question that has been discussed and debated for more than 18 months: Should high school schedules in Montgomery County be shifted so that sleep-deprived teenagers can get more rest in the mornings?

A school district report with analysis and recommendations is expected in coming days, with a much-anticipated school board discussion next week.

In a final wave of public comment, school board members say they have received a stream of e-mails in recent weeks from parents and community members. Many were among the more than 11,700 who signed an online petition favoring later start times in Montgomery.

“I think if the political will is there, they can do it,” said parent Mandi Mader of Garrett Park, who launched the petition in fall 2012 and later served on a work group created by the district to examine research on teen sleep and options for change.

“I think it’s been well-studied, feedback’s been given — and I think a way to afford it can be found; I think a way to minimize disruption can be found,” she said.

Last October, Superintendent Joshua P. Starr embraced the idea of changing high school start times to 8:15 a.m., saying it would boost student well-being. High school opening bells ring at 7:25 a.m. in Montgomery, with many teens boarding buses in the 6 o’clock hour.

As part of his plan, Starr proposed other schedule changes, too: Middle school students would start 10 minutes earlier, at 7:45 a.m., and elementary school students would see their days extended by 30 minutes every afternoon.

Starr asked for further study of costs and operational impacts, as well as an expansive effort to gather public comment. Community meetings were held, and surveys were done of employees, students and parents. A work group was created to examine how the added minutes to the elementary school day might be used if such a change were made.

Over the months, some parents have objected to a longer school day for younger children, saying students are tired by late afternoon and need free time for play, activities, exercise and homework.

The report expected this week is to include the new analysis and Starr’s updated recommendations based on those findings. A full discussion is slated for next Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Any change would take effect in the 2015-16 school year at the earliest, officials have said.

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



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