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SLEEP Bulletin 

Healthy Start Times Mean Better Performance:

In the Classroom, On the Field, and Behind the Wheel

June 2012 

STATUS OF EFFORTS TO BRING LATER HIGH SCHOOL START TIMES TO FAIRFAX: WHAT HAPPENED AT YESTERDAY'S BOARD MEETING?

The School Board created a work group to develop a request for proposal (RFP), and to then guide the work of a consultant. Chair Janie Strauss appointed Sandy Evans, Patty Reed, Ryan McElveen, and Ted Velkoff to serve on this school board committee. Many of the school board members seemed to be leaning toward hiring a firm with change management expertise, which was one of the recommendations of the Transportation Task Force in 2008. The details will be proposed by the newly-formed working group.

In April, the school board officially recognized the clear and growing body of research regarding teen sleep and circadian rhythms with a resolution to set a goal to start high schools in Fairfax after 8:00 AM. Yesterday, the school board began the hard work of determining how best to provide healthy and safe options for all students and schedules that also work for other stakeholders.

 

The school board had directed staff to report on other districts that have high schools starting after 8:00 AM and school divisions that have successfully changed high school start times to later in the morning, including how such school districts:

  • Scheduled elementary, middle and high schools
  • Arranged transportation for elementary, middle and high school students to and from school
  • Scheduled sports and after-school activities for high school students around their start and end times
  • Used successful change management techniques to involve and prepare parents, teachers, students and other stakeholders and the school division for a different schedule, in cases where a shift to later start times has occurred.   
Staff instead provided a history of the failed attempts to change start times in Fairfax along with transportation information from the 40 largest suburban districts, 10 of which have high schools starting after 8:00 AM.

Staff recommended that the school board hire a consultant to "perform the research [of school systems with later starting times], determine what actions were taken that make the change successful, and to prepare a specific plan for Fairfax County based upon their research" and to ensure this work is done in a timely and objective manner.

 

In an effort to allow school board members to better prepare for their discussion yesterday, SLEEP volunteers contacted other districts and prepared a research report as well as a quick summary about each of the points from the school board's April direction to staff.

 

Dr. Dale reported on a conversation he had with Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom, an expert in the field of changing high school start times. He explained that districts that succeed in making this change often begin by making the decision to have high schools start later based on the research and belief that it is beneficial, and then work with their community to resolve any potential problems before implementing the new schedule.

 

Change is difficult and, in Fairfax, it is a slow process. The working group will be meeting to decide what might be included in a future RFP to help guide the process. As you may remember, Ms. Evans, Ms. Reed, and Mr. McElveen voted in favor of the school board's recent resolution to set a goal to start high school after 8:00. Mr. Velkoff voted against it.

 

The full wording of the resolution is available below.

 

Phyllis Payne, MPH

SLEEP Co-founder, www.sleepinfairfax.org  

RESOLUTION ON THE GOAL OF  

THE FAIRFAX COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD

TO START HIGH SCHOOLS AFTER 8 A.M. AND  

TO DIRECT THE SUPERINTENDENT TO IDENTIFY  

AND REPORT ON SCHOOL DIVISIONS  

WITH LATER STARTING HIGH SCHOOLS

 

       WHEREAS, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) all conclude that adolescents on average need about nine hours of sleep per night for optimal performance, health, and brain development; and

 

      WHEREAS, most teens experience delayed sleep onset during puberty, and the hormones that help regulate sleep make it difficult for most teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m. or to be alert before 8 a.m.; and

 

      WHEREAS,  Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) buses begin picking students up at 5:45 a.m. and drop students off at high schools between 6:45 and 7 a.m., at a time when teen bodies typically demand sleep; and

 

      WHEREAS, the 2010 Fairfax County Youth Survey found that two-thirds of FCPS 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students report sleeping seven hoursor less on an average school night, resulting in a large nightly sleep deficit; and the survey further found that nearly one-third of teen students showed signs of depression; and

 

      WHEREAS, sleep plays an important role in learning and memory; and sleep debt affects teens' ability to think, perform, and react appropriately; and

 

      WHEREAS, there is ample evidence that later high school start times result in adolescent students getting more sleep on school nights; and,

 

      WHEREAS, research shows there are many benefits from later high school start times, including  decreases in teen depression, car crashes, behavior problems, discipline referrals, absenteeism, tardiness, and dropout rates ; and,

 

     WHEREAS, these benefits serve the Board's Student Achievement Goals that students will "achieve their full academic potential in the core disciplines" (Goal 1.1) and "make healthy and safe life choices" (Goal 2.8), as well as Operational Expectation 7 that "The Superintendent shall establish and maintain a learning environment that is safe, healthful, nondiscriminatory, respectful, and conducive to effective learning";

 

     THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that, because of the benefits to student health, well-being, and performance, it is a goal of the Fairfax County School Board to achieve high school start times after 8 a.m.so that students are able to obtain a healthy and sufficient amount of sleep, as defined by sleep research and medical experts; and

 

     BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Fairfax County School Board direct the Superintendent to identify and provide a list of practices in school divisions that start high schools after 8 a.m. -- including successful approaches in school districts that have changed from before to after 8 a.m. and in school districts that have traditionally had later morning start times (including, but not limited to: Arlington County and Loudoun County, VA; Minneapolis, MN; Wilton, CT; and Brevard, FL) -- to determine and report to the School Board by June 2012 on how such school districts:

  • Scheduled elementary, middle and high schools
  • Arranged transportation for elementary, middle and high school students to and from school
  • Scheduled sports and after-school activities for high school students around their start and end times
  • Used successful change management techniques to involve and prepare parents, teachers, students and other stakeholders and the school division for a different schedule, in cases where a shift to later start times has occurred. 

        

 

  

 

Girl sleeping in class

"Sleep helps your child focus and remember what he or she has learned. Memory is improved with sleep. Sleeping seems to enhance learning as if it were extra practice,iv whether your child is learning an academic subject like algebra, new physical skills like playing a musical instrument, dance steps, plays in sports, or how to drive a car." (Sleep Is Important To Your Child).  

 

SLEEP FACTS:    

  • 71 of 95 counties in Virginia start high schools at or later than 8 am, including neighboring Loudoun County whose high schools open at 9 am.
  • Nine hours of sleep is recommended for high school-aged children and, in FCPS, two-thirds are sleeping 7 or fewer hours on school nights.
  • FCPS buses begin picking high school students up as early as 5:45 am and students are dropped off at county high schools between 6:45 and 7:00 am.  With this schedule, students wanting enough sleep must be in bed and asleep by 8:30 or 9:00 pm. 
  • Children in high schools with later morning start times sleep more hours on school nights. The notion that they will stay up later is a myth.
  • School districts with later morning start times have lower teen car crash rates and have seen decreases in student depression. The 2009 Fairfax Youth Survey found that over one-fourth of our teen students reported symptoms of depression.

About Us

SLEEP is a grass-roots organization dedicated to increasing awareness about teen sleep need and improving the bell schedules at FCPS. Sleep is a prerequisite to learning and bell schedules that are in sync with student body clocks improve health, safety, and learning.