FCPS to Explore Later Start Times for High Schools
School board votes in favor of setting a goal to start high schools after 8 a.m.
After hearing nine members of the community speak on the issue, the Fairfax County School Board voted 10-2 on Thursday to develop a system-wide goal of starting high schools after 8 a.m.
Members Kathy Smith (Sully) and Ted Velkoff (At-Large) voted against the resolution.
The decision also charges Superintendent Jack Dale and the Fairfax County Public Schools staff with researching practices adopted by school districts with high schools that begin their days after 8 a.m., then reporting the findings to the school board at a June 11 work session.
"A growing body of research tells us that later high school start times do result in more sleep for teen students. This is because later schedules work with adolescent body clocks rather than against them as our current schedule does," said Sandy Evans (Mason), who introduced the resolution. Evans co-founded Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (SLEEP) in 2004 to advocate for later high school start times.
In the past 14 years, two Fairfax County Public Schools Task Forces found in 1998 and 2008 respectively that moving the county's high school start times to later in the day would benefit students and the larger community, and recommended the school system find a way to do it.
"This issue of sleep has far-reaching effects. It's not imaginary, it's not the parents' fault that they can't get their child to bed," Patty Reed (Providence) "... This is a world-class school system. The majority of Virginia counties, 74 percent, and many districts nationwide already start high school past 8 a.m. Why in the world aren't we? We can work together with all interested parties to try to make this a reality."
But Smith said the resolution as written bypasses community input.
"I understand that we want kids to get rest, but we have to look comprehensively at what we're doing for children. And we are now taking the community out of that conversation," Smith said. "We're saying we looked at the research, we know we need to do this, this is the most important thing."
Velkoff proposed an amendment that would change the language of the resolution so FCPS staff and the board was not held to start times after 8 a.m., but rather, could explore all options and assess the consequences.
Velkoff said he was concerned the resolution as written decides on a solution before doing the proper research of the effects on the school system.
"It does affirm our belief that students should get enough sleep, it allows us an opportunity to gather more information, which is in the main motion, and it allows the community to provide input for our decision," Velkoff said.
The amendment failed 6-4-2. Velkoff, Smith, Janie Strauss (Dranesville) and Ilryong Moon (At-large) voted in support. Tammy Derenak Kaufax (Lee) and Ryan McElveen (At-large) abstained.
Eight advocates for later start times for high-schoolers, including SLEEP members, spoke to the board ahead of the vote.
"Asking high school students to wake before the birds even begin to sing cuts short the average sleep time," said Phyllis Payne, a SLEEP co-founder. "Suggesting they go to sleep before their brains and bodies are ready for sleep is, to quote William Dement, the father of modern sleep medicine, 'like asking them to jump eight feet in the air. They simply can't do it.'"
Terry Edwards, whose son is a freshman at Oakton High School, detailed her son's morning routine that begins about 6 a.m. for a bus pickup at 6:25 a.m. She said her son's teachers offer positive feedback on his academic performance, though his first period teachers offer the caveat, "Well, when he's awake, he does fine," she said.
"We've heard the evidence to support the prudence of adopting later high school start times, and I know the discussion often turns to the impact such a move would have on athletics," Edwards said. "Let's remember, ladies and gentlemen, we're here talking about school. Please consider academics before athletics, not just alphabetically but in practice."
Former school board member Stu Gibson submitted a letter against the resolution, citing the board's previous attempts — the first of which he spearheaded in 1998 — to address high school start times.
"The biggest lesson we learned from that unsuccessful attempt to change HS start times was that, until someone invents a 30-hour day, the issue is not whether the goal is reachable," Gibson wrote in his letter and reiterated in his speech to the board Thursday. "No. The issue is whether — once the community understands the consequences that will come with any change in HS start times — the community is willing to make the trade-offs necessary to achieve the goal."
The board will hear a presentation from Dale and the FCPS staff on how other districts have implemented start times after 8 a.m. at a work session June 11.