Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal

SLEEP Goal:To increase awareness of teen sleep needs and to change Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) middle and high school start times to later in the morning.

Research shows that later start times correspond with teen sleep needs and improve health, quality of life, and school performance.

Parents concerned about the health and educational impact of too-early high school start times have been working for change for ten years. SLEEP was started in January 2004 by Sandy Evans and Phyllis Payne. Momentum is building for a change, but we need your continuing support to finally accomplish the goal of so many parents, educators and health professionals!

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Consensus BuildingToward a Positive Change For Our Children: Work Session Report on Community Engagement

The school board is another step closer to reaching its goal to start high schools at or after 8:00 a.m. Children's National Medical Center (CNMC) reported at the School Board's work session on Monday, highlighting community and stakeholder feedback. Based on that report, and the announcement that the Fairfax County Athletic Council supports Option 3), board members and Superintendent Garza voiced nearly unanimous support to refine and improve Option 3, the middle school/high school flip.


Implementation of this scenario would mean that all Fairfax students will have a start time after 8 a.m. for at least ten or eleven of their thirteen years in Fairfax County. And, secondary school students may entirely avoid start times before 8:00 a.m., which will be a relief to families who have had to suffer the painfully early starts for six years in a row up to now. This option may not be perfect, but it is a big improvement over the current schedule that has many middle and all high school students starting at 7:20 a.m.

One refinement goal is to move the middle school start time as late as possible, within reasonable budget parameters. As Dr. Garza summarized, the board consensus was to see a minimum middle school start time of 7:30 or 7:35. To facilitate this modification within a reasonable cost, CNMC suggested other potential tweaks, such as a standardized length of day across all schools or an 8:40 a.m. start for Thomas Jefferson High School. 

Option 3 retains the current schedules of the elementary schools and continues to dismiss older siblings in time to provide after-school care for younger siblings. The impact on sports and extra-curricular activities is minimal. FCPS will continue to offer a middle school, after-school program five days a week that is free of charge.

One major accomplishment of the FCPS Transportation staff in the CNMC Blueprint for Change is the elimination of extra-early school arrival times, what is known as the "false tier." High school students and many middle school students are currently delivered to school 20-35 minutes prior to the bell. The new plan narrows that delivery window to 10 or 15 minutes, and gives the extra time in the morning to families rather than having students cool their heels in school buildings. This means that high school buses will arrive at school 65-75 minutes later than many do now. The net effect also helps offset the change for middle schools that shift earlier.

Help Make Later Start Times A Reality!

ACTION ITEM:  Please stay engaged!

We will need to continue to actively support the school board's work to reach its goal to start high schools after 8:00 a.m. to benefit the health, well-being, and performance of students. Plans call for FCPS transportation experts to continue to refine and improve Option 3 in the coming weeks. The board expects to review revisions in September with a vote expected on a final plan in October. This timeline allows plenty of lead time for Fairfax families and stakeholders to adapt personal schedules. 


72 of 95 counties in Virginia start high schools at 8:00 or later. 

Results for students with later high school start times:
  • Fewer teen car crashes
  • Less depression and a decreased need for medications to treat depression
  • Decreased drop-out rates and improved attendance 
  • Fewer behavior problems or disciplinary referrals (interruptions to instruction)
  • High school students gain sleep - gains are commensurate with the shift in start times
  • Students are less likely to fall asleep in class or while doing homework and the school day better coincides with a time of day when students are awake and alert and prepared to learn
  • More sleep means better sports performance and fewer sports injuries
  • The return on investment is worthwhile: Brookings Institute economists report that improved performance is equivalent to two extra months in school

bell schedule

FCPS Goal To Start High Schools After 8

Review SLEEP's research report about districts that start schools after 8:00 a.m. and information about change management and elements of success from other districts that shifted start times.

10 Key Points

  • 72 of 95 counties in Virginia start high schools at or after 8:00 a.m. while Fairfax County students start boarding buses at 5:45 a.m. for a 7:20 a.m. high school start time.
  • Click here to see how Loudoun County high schools start at 9:00 a.m. and dismiss at 3:50 p.m. It is possible to have later dismissal times and competitive sports & activities.
  • Districts with early high school start times like FCPS have significantly higher teen car crash rates.
  • Driving drowsy is like driving drunk.
  • 1 in 4 Fairfax teens suffers from symptoms of depression.
  • 2 in 3 Fairfax teens are severely sleep deprived (lose 2 or more hours of sleep every school night).
  • Teens with later school start times sleep more than teens in Fairfax County.
  • Change is cost effective. According to Brookings Institute economists, lifetime earnings increase for students with later start times – benefits:costs are 9:1.
  • It's the equivalent of adding two extra months of school!
  • Adequate sleep improves learning, memory, mood, and performance in school, athletics and other extracurricular activities.
    Organizations Which Support the Positive Impact That Later Morning School Schedules Have on Teen Sleep
    Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics Medical Society of Northern Virginia
    Northern Virginia Clinical Psychologists Virginia PTA
    Fairfax County Council of PTA's  League of Women Voters-Fairfax Area
    Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) Coalition of the Silence
    FCPS School Health Advisory Committee Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform
    Northern Virginia Healthy Kids Coalition (9-5-2-1-0 Campaign)  Real Food For Kids

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