Mounting scientific evidence shows that chronic sleep loss compromises teenagers’ learning, health and safety, prompting the American Academy of Pediatrics last month to recommend that middle and high schools start class no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
Yet changing bell times has proven so logistically and politically complicated that only about 70 school districts around the country have figured out a way to do it.
Donna Grethen / Op Art
In July, Seattle’s school board waded into those waters, directing the district’s staff to begin a 15-month study to change school starting times. The district is now accepting applications to participate in a year-long task force on that will include district staff, parents, students and community experts. The deadline to apply is Oct. 6.
To appreciate the magnitude of the work involved, Seattle and other interested school districts should check out what’s been going on in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, the 11th-largest school district in the country.
Fairfax has been trying to change bell times for more than a decade. The latest push was launched in April, 2012, when the Fairfax board set a goal of having no high school begin before 8 a.m. The board may finally be approaching the finish line with a plan up for a vote on Oct. 23.
To develop its plan, Fairfax hired Children’s National Medical Center’s Division of Sleep Medicine, which published a report in April that examined how the 70 school districts that changed bell times got it done.