School schedules explored

No consensus reached at forum on start time of students' days


Whether they were for or against delaying the time that high schoolers in Anne Arundel County begin their school day, many of the 60 or so parents, students and teachers who attended a forum on the issue urged the board of education to take action soon, and not wait for the community to agree on a solution.

"You will not receive a consensus," said one parent, who said her son, a high school student, was sleep deprived.

More than two hours of testimony at a forum Wednesday night revealed that the community is split when it comes to tinkering with the times that county children attend school. High schools begin at 7:17 a.m., earlier than elsewhere in the state, and some have pleaded with the board - for years, they say - to start high school later. Those in favor of the change say teens need more sleep and would learn better and be safer drivers if their school day began later. High school start times have been getting incrementally earlier over the past 30 years, said Winship Wheatley, the school system's supervisor of transportation. The 7:17 a.m. start has been in effect for more than a decade.

Some parents who oppose delaying the start of the high school day said the current schedule prepares students for rising early as college students and adults in the working world. A few also said that if high school students have a hard time waking up, they simply should go to bed earlier.

Two of three high school students who spoke Wednesday agreed.

One, a sophomore at North County High School, said he could think of three reasons that teens are sleep deprived: computers, TVs and cell phones.

Another, Mikhal Hall, 16, who attends Broadneck High, said he was concerned about students' ability to play sports or engage in other extracurricular activities if they were released from school later.

Sage Snider, a Severna Park High School sophomore and treasurer of the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, said that more than 200 student members met Wednesday and were split between making no change to the schedule and changing the start time to 8 a.m. Many of those who opposed changing the start time, she said, were most concerned about sports and after-school activities.

Adjusting the schedules for high schools could affect the times that elementary and middle school students attend school as well. Also speaking at the forum were parents who asked for an earlier schedule for their middle school students. Some middle schools in the county end their day at 3:40 p.m., which is too late, said several parents and one middle school student.

"Kids need time to relax and just play after school," said Jaime Reichnach, 10, a fifth-grader at Piney Orchard Elementary School.

Four options were discussed at the forum, including making no changes at all.

A second option would have all schools - including elementary and middle schools - start 15 or 30 minutes later than they do now. A third would move all high schools to a 9:45 a.m.-to-4:25 p.m. schedule.

Those options would not incur additional transportation costs for the school system, but a fourth choice could cost between $2.4 million and $4.6 million more than current costs for more buses and drivers. That option offers a few variations, but would have all schools opening and closing between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The county's 19 middle schools have different schedules, beginning from 7:55 a.m. to 9:20 a.m. and dismissing between 2:25 p.m. and 3:40 p.m. Elementary schools open between 8 a.m. and 9:20 a.m. and close between 2:25 p.m. and 3:35 p.m.

Wheatley called all the proposals "sketches" that would need to be refined. In addition to the known factors for the board to consider, such as traffic, student activities, costs and the length of the school day, there also could be hidden costs if the board makes a change.

For example, Wheatley said, the school system already struggles to find bus drivers, and increasing the number of buses would exacerbate the problem.

"Drivers are a serious issue for us," he said.

The board could consider the issue at a coming meeting or take up the matter during coming budget discussions, but no decision has been made.

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