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Montgomery Petition to Start School Later: Who Supports the Change and Why

Press Release: Montgomery Petition to Start School Later - Detailed Report Highlights Who Supports the Change & Why

Silver Spring -- There is strong support for later high school start times from all parts of Montgomery County and from a wide variety of stakeholders, according to a report released today by the Lloyd Society, an independent, non-profit, research center. The report analyzes the responses to an on-line petition requesting that high school start times be delayed by one hour in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). The petition was circulated by the Montgomery County Chapter of Start School Later, a national advocacy organization.

As a result of the petition, which was presented to the MCPS Board of Education on Dec. 11, Superintendent Joshua Starr established a working group on school start times, which meets for the first time today.

"This report provides a number of insights that can be useful to the working group," said Ann Gallagher, board chair of the Lloyd Society and author of the report. "Our analysis found that signers came from every area in the county and represent a cross section of all groups involved with teenagers and the school system. I was also impressed by how much petition supporters were familiar with the research documenting the negative impact of sleep deprivation on teenagers." In addition to her role at the Lloyd Society, Gallagher is an adjunct professor of science at the Catholic University of America and the outreach chair of the Montgomery County Chapter of Start School Later.

The . Signers included school faculty and staff, students, parents of students, sleep experts, doctors, and mental health professionals. About a quarter of responders left comments explaining the reasons for their support for later start times.  

“We still have some years until our kids are in high school, but as a coach at a Montgomery County high school I see on a first hand basis how exhausted these high school kids are each day,” noted one petition signer.  

Overwhelmingly, signatures come from Montgomery County residents, 98.4% of the total. Support for the petition came from every part of the county, corresponding to distribution of the overall population. But even for those who live outside the county, most have local ties, including former MCPS students and parents, as well as health practitioners that treat county residents.

Petition signers expressed concern over the physical and mental health effects of sleep deprivation and its impact on academic performance.

"I could not focus on or learn the material that was being taught to me in school. I truly believe I would have picked a different major in college if I had been awake enough in high school to realize how much I loved science," wrote one signer.

A few commented about safety issues, expressing concerns about teens traveling to and from school in the dark, cars hitting students, girls waiting at bus stops in the dark, and the general practice of students driving while sleepy.

One student reported that “as a student in the Blair magnet program, I had to drive or be driven three miles to my bus stop every morning at 6:30 am, which at one point resulted in me hitting a tree. Though I was not seriously injured, this sort of ridiculous morning could easily be prevented with a little less sleep deprivation and a little more time to actually wake up in the morning.” 

A number of comments came from health professionals and therapists expressing support for the petition, based both on experience with patients and their own children.

“Many of my patients who have eating disorders report using food to wake themselves up during school because they are so tired,” said a therapist in Kensington. 

Students, parents and teachers indicated that first period was especially problematic. Many students are chronically late. Others are not awake or are unable to absorb the lessons.      

“My son has Spanish first period," a parent from Takoma Park reported. "At back to school night, the teacher told us that she could not teach our kids. The kids are asleep!”

The establishment of the working group has given hope to supporters of later start times that their concerns have been heard and that the county will look for ways to address them.

“It's about time to do something," commented a Bethesda resident. "Our children are getting sick from not sleeping enough. They can't concentrate on their homework in the afternoon because they are tired, thus needing more and more time to finish it. They sit for hours on their homework. This leads to even later bed time. Our children have rarely more than 6 or seven hours of sleep per night, which is absolutely not enough. We need to do something about it and find a workable solution.”

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Start School Later is a coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and other concerned citizens dedicated to increasing public awareness about the relationship between sleep and school hours and to ensuring school start times compatible with health, safety, education, and equity. Please visit our website at: http://www.startschoollater.net.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Holly Stephens March 01, 2013 at 05:33 PM
My 9th grade Blair English students wrote the following comments to this article: ------------------------ I think later start times would not be better for kids. Later start times wouldn't be better because everyone would still be tired from just waking up anyway. Kids also wouldn't have time for after school activities like sports because starting later would mean getting dismissed later and it would be dark by the time everyone gets home. In the article, it says, "My son has Spanish first period... the whole class is asleep." Getting an extra hour of sleep wouldn't really benefit kids anyway. They would still sleep in class because they are bored or want to leave school, not because they are tired. ---------------------- The school starting time shouldn't start later. Although students would concentrate in school and wouldn't be tired, their safety would be put at risk. Most afterschool activities end at 5 and with a later start time they will end even later. That means students will have to walk home or wait for the public bus in the dark. Students could get sexually harassed or worse. We already have to stress about schoolwork; we don't need to worry about our safety either. Yes, we can call our parents to pick us up, but what if they don't answer? There will be no other option but to walk home or wait for the (usually late) public bus. Would you really risk your child's safety just for a better night's sleep? I don't think it's worth it.
Holly Stephens March 01, 2013 at 05:40 PM
And more... --------------------- I think school should start later because students would have more time to sleep. Every first period the teachers may have troubles teaching because the students are sleeping. Students don't get enough sleep, they don't focus in class, and they don't get their work done. Also, students would have enough time in the morning to get ready and eat breakfast, which is the most important meal of the day. Right now, students wake up really early and they have so much to do in such little time, which can make them late for school or miss their bus. Getting to school late can make the student miss the lesson of their first class, and that would be a problem because the student would be behind. Students don't have enough time at home to do their homework because sometimes they have so much to do and they end up going to bed late. Going to bed late can lead to less sleep and that's a bad thing because we need at least 8 hours of sleep to function well.
Laura L Thornton (Editor) March 01, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Good points! I remember hating having to get up so early in the morning. But when the class was interesting, that helped a lot. Senior year, I had calculus at 7:40 a.m. every morning, all year. I thought I was going to die when I saw that schedule. But calculus surprised me in being very interesting, so I actually was awake just about all the time. It was Russian class, which was often right after lunch (and near the end of the day, yet not quite the last class of the day), when I would start to get really sleepy, but that might have been in part because the Russian classroom had no windows, and the pace of the class was a bit too slow for my liking. So, in my experience, there were definitely other factors at work beside the start time.
Holly Stephens March 07, 2013 at 05:34 PM
And another says: ------------------------- MCPS should really consider starting school later. I'm sure almost all students will agree with me. For example, a student petition signer says, "I could not focus on or learn the material that was being taught to me." This shows that many kids are going to school for no reason. By saying that I mean, what's the point of going to school if you're not going to learn, and instead go to sleep and not be able to focus? Not only students agree with me, even the student's parents do. For example, a parent says, "At back to school night, the teacher told us that she could not teach our kids. The kids are asleep." The parent is really concerned that her child has a chance of not succeeding just because they didn't get enough sleep. That is why MCPS should start school later.
Laura L Thornton (Editor) March 08, 2013 at 02:23 AM
Thanks for sharing the kids' comments! Very insightful.
Holly Stephens March 12, 2013 at 01:22 PM
Thanks, Laura! I'm glad that these kids are choosing to speak publicly on this topic. Here's another: --------------------- Personally I think school should start later because like stated in the text the early start to school disrupts the natural sleeping cycle of teenagers. Naturally we can't make ourselves go to sleep anytime before around 10 and having to wake up so early does nothing but exhaust us and in return we're not as rested and focused as we should be. Elementary and Middle School children, unlike high school kids, can go to sleep earlier and are able to wake up earlier so the middle school time and high school start times should be switched to better fit each age group.

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