POLL: Should School Hours Be Changed to Start Later?

Montgomery County parents and teachers have signed on to a petition encouraging national lawmakers to set school hours to start later in the day.


"Saved by the bell" may be a common refrain among students in classrooms and hallways, but parents and teachers are starting to ask if children should be saved from the bell instead.

Montgomery County parents have signed on to the Start School Later Initiative  encouraging lawmakers to start school no earlier than 8 a.m., allowing kids more time for sleep and rest and teachers more time to prepare lessons.

Originating in Severna Park, MD, the petition was presented to members of congress yesterday, according to movement organizer Heather Macintosh, with nearly 5,000 signatures from all 50 states. Over 1,000 of those signatures were from parents and educators in Maryland.

"The [petition] comments range from student pleas for a more humane schedule, to educators wishing their students weren't still asleep, to health professionals and researchers seriously concerned about the damage we're doing to kids' mental and physical health," said movement organizer Heather Macintosh.

In Montgomery County petitioners had the following to say:

"My son will be a 9th grader in the upcoming school year. He and his grades will suffer greatly due to the unhealthy early start of high school," said Maria Lampos of Gaithersburg in the petition.

"With increasing demands on student teacher performance, restricting school start time to after 8 a.m. is the right thing to do. This would give everyone impacted a chance for better success," wrote Christine Zmuda of Potomac.

"The early start time of high school puts tremendous stress on parents as well as children. I have seen this both professionally as a psychologist and personally as a parent. I cannot wait for my younger son to be out of high school so I don't have to get up so early every morning either!" Lisa Meier of Bethesda wrote.

What do you think? Are school hours fine as they are or is there room for change?

Sandy Roberts March 08, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Having lived in other US cities, high school always starts later. YES school should start later here in Montgomery County!
Colleen Gibson March 08, 2012 at 07:03 PM
I think school should start later but not too late. My son currently starts at 8:40 and ends at 3:30. I do not like the 3:30 time because they do not have much homework time before a sport or other activity. If They started at 8:10 and dismissed at 3:00 it would be perfect!
Therese Tuley March 08, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Here in Fairfax County, we are also advocating for a healthy and safe school start time for all of our kids. The growing body of research indicates that the adolescent hormonal shift ( they can't fall asleep as early as they did as children) means that they need that early morning sleep. With the current schedule, to be in class for the 7:20a.m. start, many students need to be at the bus stop as early as 5:45a.m.. In systems where class starts between 8 and 9 am, the data indicates that the students DO get more sleep and still have great extracurricular programs.
Katie Griffith (Editor) March 08, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Thanks for your comment, Colleen! Where does your son go to school? Is 8:40 one of the later start times in the county?
Katie Griffith (Editor) March 08, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Thanks for the comment, Sandy! What hours have you seen to work best?
Bill Redmond March 09, 2012 at 01:19 AM
We really want the federal government to dictate the start time of Montgomery County schools? No way. I have read about studies that say that we should reverse the current sequence and send the elementary school kids first and the high school kids last. Colleen is obviously talking about a younger son (E.S.?) My daughter goes to Good Counsel H.S. and with school getting out at 2:45, play practice doesn't end until 6:30, IB Music ends at 6:00, sports that can't get a gym or field right after school also go late. If we move back the start time, then they're up even later than they are now doing homework.
Katie Griffith (Editor) March 09, 2012 at 01:29 AM
That's a good point Bill -- extracurricular activities do need time as well. But in my opinion, having seen what coaches expect from my little sister, a three and a half hour play practice seems a little long for what should be a fun hobby. My sister's extracurriculars have almost turned into a job.
Bill Redmond March 09, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Well, Kate, the extracurriculars don't start right away. They give the students time to visit their lockers or see a teacher or... And play practice isn't usually all call for the whole time; she has a schedule of which numbers are called when and she can study in between (but without a computer for research, writing papers, etc.). The hard ones are tech week when they are bringing the whole thing together
Alan B. Fischler March 12, 2012 at 12:34 PM
We have our teens getting too little sleep; getting too much homework, (especially AP courses which are clearly more rigorous, in class time and homework, than college courses themselves); subject to too much testing (keeping pressure on every day, together with the homework); and then subject to over-bearing sports and other extra-curricular programs which dominate the child's time (leaving little time for more than one choice, and for which there should be some daily and hourly limits); all which have put our teens on a treadmill, have created undue, unnecessary and counter-productive stress, and, in my opinion, robbing them of their youth and ability to explore, develop and have some fun (yes fun!) to which they are entitled at this stage of their lives.
Mandi Mader March 12, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I am thrilled to see this being discussed and considered! I am the mother of a freshman in Mont. Co. and an adolescent psychotherapist. I see high school student, after high school student, come to my office with major depression, anxiety, and social problems, and one of the first things I do is educate the parents and student on the compelling and growing research about adol. sleep needs. We then try to problem solve about any possible way to get them more sleep! We are not very successful. The pharmaceutical companies are probably happy about this. I really do feel this chronic sleep deprivation is almost a form of abuse. A strong word I know. I have even offered to drive my son in, eveyday, at 2nd period, just so he can get more sleep! I would work with his school to get permission. Even with skipping first period, he will have enough credits to graduate, given the ones he earned in midde school. He has declined my offer, (What freshman what to do something so different?), and his alarm goes off every school day at 5:45 AM . . . There has got to be a way in this county to solve this problem. Mandi Mader, LCSW-C
Katie Griffith (Editor) March 12, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Thanks for your comment, Mandi! Your suggestion for your son was very interesting. How do you think the school would have responded?
Mandi Mader March 12, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Katie - I feel it could go either way. Some of it would depend on how I handled myself - constructive and positive, or a demanding jerk. They might be afraid it would start a trend, and thus a lot of headaches for them. Generally, it would be considered tardy, but some administrators are more flexible and creative than others. I do know that for some of my depressed students, a later start time has been arranged. Why not be flexible BEFORE problems arise? I have been surprised at some of the creative suggestions counselors and administrators have come up with when we are all struggling to keep a student in school and succeeding. I generally feel that MCPS is open to creative suggestions, but of course a lot of it depends on who you are working with, and if you are working with the person who has the authority to make decisions. I like to think I am positve, patient, and constructive, but I can also be very persistant. Mandi Mader
Bea Fritsch March 14, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Without a doubt, a later start to schools is beneficial to everyone, most importantly to the kids. My children have attended school in several countries and they all had later starts (8:45am - 3:30pm). Kids were engaged and awake but still had time for after school activities and sports. Multiple studies have shown this is the best scenario for children - why can't Montgomery County see that?
Sandy Roberts March 14, 2012 at 08:30 PM
I have been told it is because of the bus schedules, so simply let the elementary schools take the high school bus schedule keep middle school as is and let high schools have the latest start! It should be roughly the same amount of students( and in turn same amount of buses needed) since they will all ultimately end up as high schoolers, right?
Bill Redmond March 14, 2012 at 09:36 PM
@Sandy - Although swapping the high school students and the elementary school students seems reasonable, you'll get a lot of pushback from elementary parents about having their kids at the bus stop at 6:30am (especially when it's still dark outside). @Beatriz - a later start would not be beneficial to working parents and that might be at work here. Some parents have wraparound daycare (before and after care) but others can't leave for work until the kids are on the bus.


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