Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia — the 11th largest school district in the country — will delay the starting time for high schools next fall so teens can get more sleep.
The school board voted last Thursday to push back high school start times from 7:20 a.m. to between 8 and 8:10 a.m.
Fairfax middle schools will start at 7:30 a.m., but the district says it will try to get those times closer to 8 a.m.
The shift will cost the district almost $5 million.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in August that middle and high schools start class no earlier than 8:30 a.m., citing decades of research showing that later start times for adolescents improve health, safety and academic achievement.
Many parents and local sleep experts want later start times in Seattle, too, and the Seattle school board directed the staff this summer to begin a 15-month study of the issue.
Seattle’s high schools already start at least a half hour later than high schools in Fairfax County and Seattle middle schools start 20 minutes later.
Most high schools start at 7:50 a.m. and four start at at the recommended 8:30 a.m. or a little later.
Changing start 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.
Fairfax’s effort took two years of planning and community meetings, coordinated by a consultant group co-directed by one of the leading researchers in children and sleep, Dr. Judith Owens, director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National Medical Center, based in Washington, D.C.
Here’s what Dr. Owens told the Seattle Times earlier this year:
If Fairfax County can do it — with the size and the diversity and the geographical distances that students have to commute — then there’s no excuse for any other school district in the country not to.