Montgomery County Public Schools will consider implementing later start times for its high schools following a push from parents, Superintendent Joshua Starr said Wednesday.
The school board probably will take up the issue soon, and officials plan to "dust off" a study from 1998, the last time the school system seriously considered starting high school after 8:15 a.m., Starr said. But he emphasized a hefty amount of skepticism that such a measure would pass this year.
"I have to say, as folks won't be surprised, that it's more complex than at first blush. ... If people wanted K-8 schools, would we make that switch? We have goals for the year -- would this take them off task?" Starr said on WAMU's "Kojo Nnamdi Show."
"We want to get perspectives from around the county. It's absolutely been put on our radar screen, and I'm sure the board will be raising it soon," Starr said.
An online petition to push back the 7:25 a.m. bell has gathered nearly 6,000 signatures, mostly from Montgomery County residents, in a little more than a week's time. Mandi Mader, the mother of a sophomore at Walter Johnson High School and a sixth-grader at Tilden Middle School, created the petition as the first act of the Montgomery County chapter of national advocacy group Start School Later.
A clinical social worker who treats adolescents, Mader points to studies touting the benefits of a full night's sleep for teens: Studies have repeatedly linked a full night's sleep to better attendance and lower rates of depression, with scientists emphasizing adolescence as a key time for brain development.
Gabriela Acosta, a 2008 graduate of Montgomery Blair High School, signed the petition because she remembers "being up until maybe 1 in the morning, 2 in the morning, sometimes 3, studying and preparing for class."
"To get into college, you have to do a lot of activities. ... That means very little sleep, and getting in an hour later would make such a difference," Acosta said.
But as Starr was quick to remind, changing that first bell is a complicated dance. Arlington and Loudoun counties' school systems have pushed back their high school bell schedules by bumping up start times of elementary and middle schools. "We know we don't want our kindergartners at bus stops at 6:30 in the morning," Starr said.
Because school buses make multiple runs each morning -- often transporting high school students before going back for elementary or middle schoolers -- altering the bell schedules could potentially incur significant transportation costs. The Fairfax County School Board has studied the issue eight times in the last 24 years, and is considering hiring a consultant, but has yet to implement any changes.