ROKVILLE, Md. (WNEW) — Montgomery County is trying to come up with a way for its high school students to start their days later, and its trying to do so without spending a fortune.
In 2013, superintendent Joshua Starr tasked a “Bell Times Work Group” with gathering information about the potential benefits of starting school later.
Members of that group eventually found that “insufficient sleep contributes to a range of physical, psychological, and public safety problems.”
More specifically, their report stated, “research shows that insufficient sleep in adolescents is associated with higher rates of obesity; increased incidences of depression; delayed reward-related brain function and lower levels of motivation; lowered ability to complete abstract and complex tasks; lower levels of attentiveness; and increased numbers of traffic accidents.”
The group also learned that 70 percent of parents of Montgomery County high school students and 63 percent of high school students themselves considered the 7:25 a.m. high school start time too early.
More than 11,700 people also signed a MoveOn.org petition in favor of Montgomery County high schoolers beginning their days after 8:15 a.m.
The group’s report was released in October 2013. Based on its findings, Starr put forward a recommendation to consider shifting high school start times 50 minutes later and middle school start times 10 minutes earlier, while extending the elementary school day by 30 minutes with starting times unchanged.
The county studied the full financial impact of the recommendation and found that it would cost at least $21 million a year, with transportation changes being the primary financial factor. Starr then recommended that the school system not move forward with the proposal.
This week, the county’s board of education considered several options that would bump start times without costing the school system more than $10 million per year.
“I have said all along that I would like high school to start later in the day in order to support the health and well-being of our students,” Starr says.
“But we must balance this decision against the other needs and priorities we have in the district and ensure any changes to high school bell times do not place an unfair burden on other students and their families. At this point, given the projected budget shortfalls, I believe the only options that should be considered are those that do not add any additional cost to the budget.”
The only one of four options being considered that would have a “minimal financial impact” would push the start times for high schools, middle schools and elementary schools back by 20 or 35 minutes, according to Patricia O’Neill, chair of the board of education.
Right now, high school students start their days 7:25 a.m., middle school begins at 7:55 a.m. and elementary school bells ring at either 8:50 a.m. or 9:15 a.m.
The school board will hear a presentation on the options at its Jan. 13 meeting.
After that, the board will hold two public hearings on Jan. 22 in the auditorium of the Carver Educational Services Center, located at 850 Hungerford Drive in Rockville. One will run from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and the second will run from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Those who wish to testify at the hearing should call 301-279-3617 to reserve a spot, starting at 9 a.m. Jan. 15. All speakers will have three minutes. Written feedback can be sent to email@example.com and should be submitted before the close of business on Feb. 2.