School Board Seeks Start Time Consultant

Vision outlined by ad hoc committee Thursday focuses on alternatives analysis, community engagement

The Fairfax County School Board took its next step toward later start times Thursday, asking staff to issue a request for proposal for a firm that will research and develop a specific plan

On a 10-1 vote, the board approved a document developed by the board's which outlines expectations and outcomes for the group that will guide the process.

Among them: reviewing the system's own history with later start times, ; developing optional approaches and alternatives to achieve a later start time; creating a "blue print for change" and leading a community engagement plan to solicit recommendations to the plan.

The full document is attached to this article.

Kathy Smith (Sully) voted against seeking a consultant, saying her opposition gave a voice to those who felt like the system should not spend money on the issue

Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) was absent from the meeting.

The consultant will be funded with the system's fiscal year 2013 transportation reserve, staff said Thursday night. Ted Velkoff (at-large) said the committee did not put a cost estimate on the contract, but instead would let firms come forward with a price for their proposals.

The move comes after 14 years of discussion and two formal attempts to address the issue on its own.

Board members passed a resolution by Sandy Evans (Mason) in April, creating a board goal of starting all high schools after 8 a.m; the ad hoc committee — including Evans, Ryan McElveen (At-large), Patty Reed (Providence) and Velkoff — then laid out a vision for the system's future consultant.

The vision described Thursday night asks a consultant to consider multiple approaches and analyze impact on travel time costs, transportation, school and sports schedules, and the length the school day when developing alternatives.

It also places weight on presenting those options to the community, and having the ability to revise options using that input. 

"This is an all-inclusive process," Reed said at a work session earlier this month, "An opportunity for everyone to engage in developing the solutions to some of these challenges."

Evans, who as a citizen co-founded Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (SLEEP) in 2004 to advocate for later high school start times, said earlier this year a major flaw of the last review process was the board only had one plan to work with and did not use the feedback it received to develop other options.

Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said Thursday night she hopes the focus on engagement reassures those who have said the board is rehashing an old problem that has seemingly exhausted its potential for solution.

"I think it's critical that there is a still a misperception that the board is ignoring [the last decision it made against later start times] in 2009," McLaughlin said about the issue at a July 9 work session.  "There's a myriad of reasons why the public rejected it. It just wasn't the right solution."

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Reston Resident July 27, 2012 at 03:46 PM
I really do not see how spending money on a consultant for an issue such as this is necessary especially if reports were done as recent as 5 years ago. There is a surplus of data out there that shows teenagers need the later start times. Additionally we could just look at surrounding school districts...but hey why not spend more money unnecessarily...
TV July 27, 2012 at 04:39 PM
I agree, hiring a consultant at this time is a waste of money. If their final result is not to change to start time, then what? You're back to where you started and it will never get resolved. This has been going on too long and the students need to benefit from this now. I believe parents should have a vote in this too (1 that counts)!!
Casey Cosgrove July 27, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Yes, there is a surplus of data out there that shows FCPS provides great results with the current start times. Additionally, we could just look at the surrounding school districts that provide worse results with later start times and easily conclude that this is money poorly spent.
Casey Cosgrove July 27, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Yes, this has gone on for quite some time. Too bad SLEEP won't just leave the rest of us alone.
Amelie Krikorian July 27, 2012 at 06:19 PM
A hundred years ago, kids got up even earlier and did chores before walking to school. Then they did chores after school as well, helping out around the house or the farm, and many kids dropped out of school very young to take jobs in manufacturing. Today's kids are spoiled in comparison, and frankly don't have the kind of work ethic our ancestors did.
Kathy Keith July 27, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Is the money for consultants going to change the facts? The main problem with changing start times is the same as it was the last time we looked at this.....the logistics. Has that changed? From what I read, the guidance to the consultant is to look at what other counties/systems have done and to come up with ways to adjust the schedule. The last time we went through this, Minneapolis was the "model". Minneapolis is an urban school system that is NOTHING like FCPS in geography or logistics. I think Arlington may have been another example. Even Loudoun does not deal with the issues of FCPS. Here are some questions the school board should ask itself before it awards a contract to consultants: 1. Is "rush hour" traffic no longer a problem? 2. Are after school activities (sports and extracurricular) no longer a problem? 3. Has the morning (or evening) light changed so that elementary students will not be out in the dark when walking to school or bus stops? 4. Are families going to be able to adjust to the changes? 5. DOES THE COMMUNITY REALLY WANT THIS? Here is a fact: No matter what time you start school, the high school kids will STILL be sleepy. I know what the "science" says. But, I think Amelie made a very good point in her comment about kids 100 years ago--and that is a fact. This isn't science--it is habits. Take the phones and computers out of the bedrooms and send the kids to bed. Give them a textbook to read. They will fall asleep.
Aalliiee Marie July 30, 2012 at 03:12 AM
Kathy, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but teenagers don't and can't be made to function that way. Last year, I was a sophomore at South Lakes. In addition to a very heavy courseload of multiple pre-IB classes, I also was a manager for the South Lakes Girls' Basketball Program, for which I managed all three teams. On game days, I would get to school at 7 am, and be in classes from 7:20-2:10. I would then have about an hour to do homework or to walk up to the South Lakes Starbucks to get a coffee (it wasn't worth going home for such a short amount of time) before I had to set up for the first game, at around 3:15. The Freshman Team would have their game at 4pm, and for the next five hours, I would be managing three basketball games, back to back, with no break for dinner (or homework). I would get home at around 10, and if I was lucky, be done with homework and in bed by midnight; however, this was a best case scenario. Factoring some of the horrible weeks with multiple major deadlines, "away" basketball games (for many of which I wouldn't be home until 10:30pm or later), mandatory piano practice, and my insomnia, many times I didn't get to sleep until 2am or later. This erratic schedule caused me to often sleep through my first period, a lecture-based AP government course. I could do what many people have suggested, drop my IB/AP classes and stop managing the basketball team, but then it would be much harder for me to get accepted to a decent college. (continued)
Aalliiee Marie July 30, 2012 at 03:27 AM
It is getting significantly harder to be accepted into a good, 4 year university, as the application process gets increasingly more complicated and competitive as time goes on. Is a student who is forced to go to bed at 9pm (so that they can get the recommended nine hours of sleep per night and still get up at 6am) likely to have challenged themselves academically or participated in a sport or other extracurricular activities? No. Besides, teens' biological clocks are designed so that they stay up later (think 11:00pm-1:00am), but cannot easily wake up before 8:00 or 9:00 am. As mentioned in a previous post (on a different article) waking a teenager up at 7:00 am is comparable to waking an adult up at 4:00 am, but FCPS teens are required to wake up even earlier. Although I passed my driving test last May, I will not be getting my license until September 2, only two days before school starts. I will also be driving to school next year, at 7:00 am and in rush hour traffic. Honestly, I am actually quite concerned about getting into an accident, because of the early hour I will be waking up and leaving the house at. Do you really want teenagers on the road in the mornings before they are fully awake? If not, then it's time to change the start times. Take it from me, a rising high school junior, that we cannot afford to leave the start times as they are. Something must be done before the 7:20 start time burns us out any more.
Kathy Keith July 30, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Aaiillee Marie, Good for you in being involved in so much. Please don't stress too much over the college application process. There are lots of good colleges out there and there is not "one" that is a requirement for success in life. If you change the start time, all the afternoon/evening activities will be pushed forward and you will be shifting your afternoon (and bedtime) up one hour later. That does not result in more sleep. As for the morning drive, I am familiar with the South Lakes area, and I can assure you that the traffic gets worse after 7. Read Amelie's comment above. In the past, teens rose much earlier and did chores before they went to school. I understand the need for sleep and I agree that your schedule is egregious. Unfortunately, shifting the school hours does not add time to the 24 hour day.
hilarie malmberg July 31, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Amelie, Comparing high school and teens today to those in 1913 is illogical. In 1913, most people who lived on farms and did "chores" were not hooked up to electricity, plumbing, television, or the internet. Hence, when it got dark and the kerosene ran low, people when to bed. Schools tended to be smaller and much less demanding then. I doubt that the school teacher rang the start bell much before 9:00 because students needed to do their chores and walk or ride (the horse/mule) to school which took close to an hour. (Back then school teachers were not allowed to marry and had to fetch the water from the well and start the fire in the wood burning stove on winter mornings.) I realize that you think teens today are lazy, spoiled and feel entitled. However, I would love to see how you would handle the demands of today's average high school student. Before you make blanket judgments about school start times talk to 5 teens who have recently been enrolled at a school starting at 7:10 with bus pick up times starting at 5:45 to 6:30 A.M.
hilarie malmberg July 31, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Questions to ask before you conclude that later start times are irrelevent: 1. I am too busy or bored or plain disinterested in young people to be bothered with the changes and expenses that might have a positive impact on our children, their physical and mental well-being. 2. Do I oppose tax-payer funding to public education because it's my hard-earned money? 3. Do I like status quo and nothing would change your mind short of the world coming to an end. 4.Do I feel powerless because school transportation runs the county and nothing I can do or say will change the way it is? 5. Do I feel safe driving at 6:45 AM, knowing a sleepy, groggy teen on the way to school,is sharing the road with me. 6. Do love and respect others as I do myself?
hilarie malmberg July 31, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Kathy, You wrote "changing the school start time for high school students does not add more time to the 24-hour day." You are operating on faulty logic. The thesis is that later school start times help teens physically and psychologically. It is a health issue, like eating and drinking lots of starchy, sugary foods causes diabetes and obesity in children and adults. You have to understand that teens' biological clocks generally operate on a later schedule than younger children and grown adults; therefore, later start times and later extra-curricular activities would be better for them. You have to read the research to understand why teens need later school starting times. If you wish I can provide you with some links.
Sandra July 31, 2012 at 04:19 AM
I am also tired of people bashing on teens because they are obviously up late watching TV, playing computer games, and hooked on social media. Yes, there are some teens like that, but my teen hasn't watched TV all year (except for the Olympics this week). She just doesn't have time. She takes all honors/AP classes, participates in club and high school sports, and is a musician. According to you and others, I should be making her come straight home from school, study for the hours (and I mean hours) needed to get her homework done, and then put her immediately to bed. I feel that would be a horrible lifestyle! My teen studies hard, but needs an outlet to allow her to lead a well-rounded (and healthy) life. If we take away extracurricular activities from our teens, we would have a lot more out-of-shape depressed kids. I also think it's a disservice to tell teens to skip extracurriculars because they can always get into "Joe Schmuck U" that will accept anyone. What's wrong with kids working hard to try to get into the college of their choice? People are missing the point. The point is that by shifting school start times later, we will be moving classes to a more optimal time for learning. Yes, there are only 24 hours in a day, but teens will be on a schedule that allows them to use the hours in which they are more productive for learning.
Sandra July 31, 2012 at 04:29 AM
Please stop equating the teens of today with the teens of the past. It makes absolutely NO sense and is a ridiculous comparison. You might as well say that adults don't need any secondary school or college education, because in the old days farmers didn't need book learning to run a farm, grow crops, raise cattle, etc. Try telling adults to throw away their iPhones, Blackberries, iPads, and computers because we didn't need them in the past and we're all spoiled now. Life now is much more complex than it used to be. The kids of today are learning things in high school that I didn't get until college (and I'm referring to high school classes, not AP classes). Yes, there are some spoiled teens, but the majority of the ones I know are working their fannies off to get good grades so they can get into a good college. I give them credit for the excellent time management skills needed to fit in schoolwork and extracurriculars (not to mention that some of them hold jobs to help out their families).
hilarie malmberg July 31, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Sandra, I hope that the policymakers read what you have written, and if you speak half as well as you write, you have my support as an advocate for later start times.
Kathy Keith July 31, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Sandra, I am not sure that all of the teens are being exposed to a more rigorous curriculum than we were. I may be older than you, but I remember having to write very rigorous term papers in History and read lots of classic novels and plays in English-and write about them. In fact, I recall having to read novels in a foreign language-(although my kids were exposed to more speaking and listening, which I think is great.) What I did not have were all the extra-curricular activities--but I do think the activities are great, too. I am not saying that our kids do not learn other things which I did not learn--but mine (a public school) was quite rigorous--and this was prior to AP classes in the high school. I might add that my parents who did not go to college also had superior writing skills and had knowledge of the classics and certainly a better grasp of history than our kids today. However, I do agree that our kids have a rigorous curriculum with lots of demands. I do not object to a later start time,but I do not think it is going to change anything. I really think a lot of the problem is the different types of families that we have in FCPS--and I am not referring to socio-economics or ethnicity. I am talking about the "early starters"-those who have to get into the city before 8:30 or 9:00, and the "late starters" those who work out of the house or down the street and can wait until 8 a.m. to go to work.
Sandra July 31, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Kathy, I appreciate your comments, but in general, when I talk to all of my friends, they agree that FCPS high school courses (at least honors and AP) classes today include much more higher level content and more homework than when they were in school. I'm not going to debate that with anyone - my point is just that comparing today's teens with the old time farm kids of yesteryear makes no sense. Things are different in today's world. I find most of today's teens to be good, hard-working kids, not the spoiled brats that some seem to be implying are the norm. Secondly, I am assuming that those who are advocating for the independent study on later start times will take the family differences into consideration when they do their review. I feel that previous FCPS studies did not bother to do that, because the school district itself wasn't keen on the idea. Why do I think that? Because the last time all sorts of scare stories were circulated about how high school sports would be cancelled, etc. if later start times were enacted. I have since talked to people who originally advocated for later start times and they told me they had talked to the county rec centers and others and that accommodations would have been possible - but FCPS didn't want any parents to know about that. I would hope that this time around they would consider all of the reasons people were against this originally and devise a plan that would work for most people.
Casey Cosgrove August 02, 2012 at 02:04 AM
So the Internet and plumbing are forcing teens to stay up later? That's a good one.
Casey Cosgrove August 02, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Hilarie, please provide the links that show school systems with later start times have better results than Fairfax County.
Casey Cosgrove August 02, 2012 at 02:35 AM
Kathy, as to your point #3 above, the latest civil twilight is about 7 am for Fairfax County. So according to this SOW, it's a perfectly acceptable alternative to have elementary school kids dropped off at 7 am, meaning they are on the bus around 6:30ish, meaning they are getting up around 6 am. Is that acceptable to the community?
Joseck August 12, 2012 at 06:52 PM
FCPS can only drive one school level( High school) at a time. If there was enough transportation/ bus $ , they could drive any school at any time they choose. Right now if you changed the HS to late start the Elementary kids would have to be at the bus stops at 5:45AM!!! Would that be better???
diana bork August 26, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Yes, Hilarie, Sandra and Aliiee are right. I am also a FCPS mom. This proposed change is a no brainer if you have read the psychological and medical studies of the developing adolescent brain. I wish only parents (and adolescents) who have a horse in the race would comment on the issue. Far too many people comment on this issue who have no idea what they are talking about. This is a medical, health and safety issue, not a lazy kid issue. Children should not be required to stand out in the snow and rain in the dark waiting for a bus. I just wish the changes could be incorporated NOW instead of yet another study. There will be as terrible bus/car/child accidentbud, a kidnapping or a rape and only then will we see action Kathy, have you actually seen the kids huddled up and down Old Dominion in the pitch black dark waiting for their buses at 6:30 a.m. I have, and it's a pathetic sight.
Bendy Viragh August 26, 2012 at 05:05 PM
It seems to me that we elect School Board members to make decisions regarding the operations of our schools. They are supposed to be experienced, wise and knowledgeable (at least, that's what they say when they run for office) and represent the interests of all of us, the parents and the students. If they cannot make a simple decision, then the question comes up: just what are these people doing? Hiring a consultant to see what time school should start borders on absurdity. In plain English, it is called "passing the buck". Indeed, if these anointed Board members cannot make a decision or are afraid to make a decision, they should use their own money to pay for a consultant's services. Another novel idea for our overworked School Board members: why don't they, themselves, study available information, meet with parents and students, review other schools' experiences, study traffic problems, etc. - in short, earn their salaries.
Kathy Keith August 26, 2012 at 08:43 PM
To Diana, Of course, I have seent he kids out early at the bus stop--my own kids were among them. Of course, I don't like it. But, if you are worried about kidnapping, etc., I think my concerns would be a lot greater for elementary kids than for high school. All the options I have seen presented require for at least one level of schools (elementary, high, or middle school) to start very early. I would much prefer to see high school kids out in the dark than elementary ones.


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