FCPS Considers Later High School Start Times

Last night, FCPS hosted an information and community involvement meeting at West Springfield High School to discuss the options for later high school start times. If you were not able to make it, I have pasted some information below to keep you informed. You may also visit the Fairfax County website at http://www.fcps.edu/news/starttimes.shtml and fill out an online form to share your opinions.

From www.smartschoolstart.org

Sleep in Teens

  • Biological changes in sleep and in circadian rhythms occur in all teens during puberty, resulting in naturally-occurring delays in (later) fall asleep and wake times. On a practical level, this means that it’s almost impossible for adolescents to fall asleep much before 11 pm.
  • Scientific studies have shown that the average adolescent needs 8 1/2-9 1/2 hours of sleep per night. Thus, teens are biologically programmed to wake at around 8 am.
  • The average adolescent in the US gets about 7 hours of sleep per night, creating a chronic sleep “debt” of 10 hours/week.
  • Adolescents often sleep in on weekends in an attempt to make up for this school day sleep debt. However, this practice does not improve alertness during school and may actually worsen the circadian phase delay, pushing their biological bedtimes even later. Most adolescents exist in a chronic state of “jet lag” (like flying from DC to LA and back every weekend!).

Consequences of Insufficient Sleep

Impact on School Performance

  • Shortened attention span, decreased higher level cognitive skills, reduced ability to learn and remember new information, decreased efficiency in completing tasks, slowed reaction time
  • Lower standardized test scores, decreased school achievement

Impact on Mood and Behavior

  • Increased rates of depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Poor impulse control

Impact on Health and Safety

  • Impaired immune function
  • Increased use of caffeine and other stimulants, which is associated with increased rates of tobacco, alcohol and substance us
  • Higher risk of automobile crashes due to “drowsy driving”
  • Increased risk of sports-related injuries
  • Increased long-term risk of obesity, metabolic dysfunction (diabetes) and cardiovascular problems (high blood pressure, stroke)

Later Start Times

Middle and high school start times earlier than 8 am are associated with:

  • Chronic insufficient sleep and sleepiness
  • Higher rates of tardiness and absenteeism, increased drop-out rates, more behavior problems in school, lower academic performance
  • Higher rates of driving citations and car accidents in teens

Students in schools with later school start times (8 am or later):

  • Sleep more (ie, they do not stay up later and they do sleep later in the morning)
  • Are less likely to be depressed or have thoughts of suicide
  • Get better grades and perform better on standardized tests (like SATs)

Since 1996, dozens of school districts across the US have successfully delayed their school start times, with substantial benefits to students. None of these schools have gone back to an earlier start time.

In a 2011, the Brooking Institute reported that delaying school start times was one of the three top strategies for improving student achievement. The report estimated that higher test scores associated with delaying middle and high school start times by one hour changes translates to an increase of $17,500 in additional lifetime earnings per student.


Here are the four options that are being considered by FCPS:

OPTION #1 – Middle School “Late”

  • Tier Start End
  • High School 8:30 a.m. 3:20 p.m.
  • Middle School 9:30 a.m. 4:20 p.m.
  • Elementary School 7:50 – 9:15 a.m. 2:25 – 3:50 p.m.
  • Approximate Cost: $7,645,208
  • Buses Added: 60

OPTION #2 – MS “Early” / ES 15 Min Earlier

  • High School – 8:10 – 8:20 a.m. to 3:00 – 3:10 p.m.
  • Middle School – 7:20 a.m. to 2:10 p.m.
  • Elementary School – 7:45 – 9:10 a.m. to 2:20 – 3:45 p.m.
  • Approximate Cost: $4,665,128
  • Buses Added: 38

OPTION #3 – MS/HS “Flip”

  • High School – 8:00 – 8:10 a.m. to 2:40 – 2:50 p.m.
  • Middle School – 7:20 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
  • Elementary School – 8:00 – 9:20 a.m. to 2:40 – 4:00 p.m.
  • Approximate Cost: $5,583,005
  • Buses Added: 46

OPTION #4 – High School Later

  • High School – 9:15 a.m. to 4:05 p.m.
  • Middle School – 8:20 – 8:30 a.m. to 3:10 – 3:20 p.m.
  • Elementary School – 7:40 – 9:15 a.m. to 2:20 – 3:50 p.m.
  • *One middle school at 9:00 a.m. – 3:50 p.m.
  • Approximate Cost: $2,759,749
  • Buses Added: 25

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