Montgomery County Public Schools is considering later start times for high schools following protests from parents over their exhausted students.

Superintendent Joshua Starr announced Tuesday that he had convened a work group of school officials to examine the research on adolescent sleep schedules, review public input on the issue and analyze the results of other school systems that have considered changing their bell schedules. The group is scheduled to report back in the spring.

The group also will dust off a school system report from 1998, the last time MCPS seriously examined starting high school later than 7:25 a.m.

"A change in school bell times would affect every student in Montgomery County and would have a significant impact on our budget and operations," said Starr, cautioning parents at a school board meeting Tuesday that the issue is more complex than it appears.

School buses make multiple runs each morning, delivering students to high schools first and then picking up younger students. The 1998 study identified 15 potential paths to later first bells for high schoolers, ranging in cost from $0 -- by pushing all schools, including elementary and middle, back an hour -- to $31.7 million -- by starting all schools at the same time and buying 1,052 additional buses. Most options fell in the $5 million-to-$15 million range, still a high sum for the cash-strapped county.

Arlington and Loudoun counties' school systems have pushed back their bell schedules by bumping up the start times of elementary and middle schools, while Fairfax County has considered -- but not implemented -- similar measures. Starr has said he is hesitant to have kindergartners wait for the bus in the early morning, when it can still be dark.

But parents and current and former students told the school board Tuesday that more sleep for students would mean higher test scores, fewer disciplinary incidents and even fewer car crashes as students were more alert traveling to school.

In many cases, research supports these claims, with doctors suggesting teenagers get 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep each night.

Ann Gallagher said her daughter ended up in the hospital for sleep deprivation, where the girl slept 40 of the next 44 hours and missed two days of school.

Nicholas Pasquinelli, a graduate of Walter Johnson High School, said he went to class "exhausted, depressed and anxious most of the time," labeling the 7:25 a.m. start time "unnecessary and counterproductive."

Kelly Lichty, an expert on sleep among adolescents, testified that because of the way teens' bodies are wired, "the well-behaved, obedient teen lying in bed is unable to [go to sleep earlier] despite the best intentions."

"The circadian rhythms of teens is of course more powerful than the politics of our county," Lichty said.