OPINION: K-12 Schools Start Too Early


School Clock (By: Getty Images)

Brandon Level

At around 8am, most high school students in most Fairfax County take their seats for their first period of the day–that is after a commute that could take anywhere from just a few minutes, to over an hour depending on day-to-day conditions. Middle school students arrive even earlier at around 7:30, and are in their desks before some high schoolers are even awake. This is because in late 2015, the FCPS School Board swapped the middle and high school start times. 

The school board received positive feedback from high schoolers and parents after the decision to swap the start times was made. The change was applauded by an organization called SLEEP. Their organization’s goal is to “establish later start times for middle and high schools in Fairfax County.” Of course with more time to sleep in, eat a healthy breakfast, and prepare for school, high school students and parents were very happy with the decision, but where does that leave middle schoolers? With 30 minutes less in the morning to prepare for school, these middle school students are forced to wake up even earlier than they previously did.

Studies continue to prove that later start times improve academic performance in children. A study presented by Education Next shows that moving bell schedules forward has a substantially positive effect on adolescent children. There are so many different benefits to starting school later: more sleep for students, better academic achievement and productivity, and more time to eat a healthy breakfast each morning. Also, if weather conditions are questionable, it would give more time to the county to make decisions on whether or not to open the schools. 

So why wouldn’t the county change the bell schedule? Well, they are working on it. In September 2015,  former FCPS Superintendent, Karen Garza, said, “It’s not a perfect bell schedule and there is still some improvement we think we need to make in the coming years, but certainly it’s a step in the right direction.” There are obstacles that the school board will need to overcome in order to make these so desperately needed changes. One such obstacle includes the ability to get all students to school on time in an efficient manner. FCPS has more school buses than New York City has greyhound busses and is one of the richest counties in America, but that doesn’t make it easy to get elementary, middle, and high school students to school at a perfect time. So it will be interesting to see how FCPS finds a way to move the start time back while simultaneously ensuring the county has enough busses and drivers to do so.

One step to make sure these changes are being worked on is to go to school board meetings and talk about your own story with the county’s bell schedule. The organization of protests could also help grab attention for this cause. Donating to organizations like SLEEP will ensure that FCPS students now, and into the future will prosper under a new school start time. We need change in FCPS in order to make sure that all students are able to come to school healthy and ready to achieve greatness.