FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


What is SLEEP and what is its goal?
How can I look at and sign the petition?
Why is a later start time important to our students?
What are the current secondary school start and end times?
Why is such an early start time bad for adolescents?
Is this true of all teenagers?
Is this different circadian rhythm why my teenager sleeps until noon on the weekends?
How much sleep does the typical teenager need?
How much do they typically get?
What are some of the problems associated with this lack of sleep?
Shouldn't they just go to bed earlier? Wouldn't they then be able to get up early and be alert?
If they weren't due at school until later, wouldn't teenagers just go to bed even later than they do now and get no more sleep than before?
I don't know that I believe all this research. Where are you getting this?
If this is such a good idea, why doesn't Fairfax County have a later schedule already?
Didn't FCPS have a Task Force recommend later start times?
What are the major barriers to change?
Who actually sets the start times for schools in Fairfax County?
Couldn't we just buy more buses, so everyone could start between 8 and 9 am?
What is SLEEP proposing to do about the transportation issue?
Will the public be allowed to tell the School Board what it thinks about the new schedule and suggest changes?
What did the 1998 Task Force look at as transportation alternatives?
Wouldn't 8:30 am be a good start time for high school?
Wouldn't this schedule have some elementary children waiting in the dark for early bus pick-ups?
What are some other suggestions put forth so far?
What about extracurricular activities? How would they fit into a later schedule?
I've heard that swim and dive teams will be eliminated if the bell schedule change goes through. Is this true?
You sound like you think academics should come first.
Some kids have to work at after-school jobs. How would that fit in with a later school day?
What about high school students who now babysit for younger siblings after school?
What do teachers think about this?
Have other surveys been done or will they be done to gauge opinion?
Didn't Madison HS try to get a later start time? What happened to that?
Have other schools districts gone to later start times?
What has been the experience by districts going to a later time?
Who supports later start times for secondary schools?
Other than signing the petition, how else can I help?

 

What is SLEEP and what is its goal?

SLEEP (Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal) is a grassroots effort to establish later start times for middle and high schools in Fairfax County.  Started by two Fairfax County parents in January 2004, the organization is working with Fairfax County School Board members, secondary school principals, PTAs, parents, students, teachers and coaches to find ways to get more reasonable start times for our adolescent students.

 

How can I look at and sign the petition?

The full text of the petition and instructions on how to sign are available on this Web site from the Home page or click here.

 

Why is a later start time important to our students?

Later start times would coincide with students’ body clocks so that teens are in school during their most alert hours and can achieve their full academic potential. Later start times will have a positive effect on students’ academic achievement and physical and mental health. It would also result in teenagers having less unsupervised time in the afternoons, when adolescents may be tempted to engage in risky behaviors.

 

What are the current secondary school start and end times?

Most high schools in Fairfax County start at 7:20 am, with buses arriving at school at or before 7 am. Middle schools generally start between 7:25 and 7:50 am. These bell schedules require that secondary school students wake up between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. to get to school on time, preventing our students from getting a healthy night's sleep. Adolescents have to get up when their bodies are telling them to sleep and often must catch a bus when it is still dark outside. A consultant hired by FCPS reported that the first bus pickup of the day in Fairfax County was at 5:21 am!

High schools that start at 7:20, end at 2:10 pm.  A number of students then find themselves with hours of unsupervised time until their parents come home from work.

A typical middle school that starts at 7:45 am, releases at 2:35 pm.  Since 7th and 8th-graders are no longer eligible for the School-Aged Child Care (SACC) program, many of those 12-to-14-year-olds must walk home from bus stops to empty houses where they may be alone for hours.

 

Why is such an early start time bad for adolescents?

Our teenagers are going to school sleep-deprived, and this is detrimental to learning as well as their physical, mental and emotional health.

A large and growing amount of sleep research shows that adolescents have a different—and later—sleep cycle than younger children and adults.  This is not a matter of habit or lifestyle or stubbornness. It’s a matter of biology and natural circadian rhythms. The hormones that regulate sleep make it difficult for a typical teenager to fall asleep until after 11 pm and to wake up and be alert before around 8 am. Making them get up at 6-something in the morning robs them of the deep sleep they need to grow and learn.

 

Is this true of all teenagers?

No.  Some people are natural “early birds” all their lives.  But this is true for most teenagers.  And even some early birds find themselves sleeping later in adolescence.

 

Is this different circadian rhythm why my teenager sleeps until noon on the weekends?

Yes.  Also, many teenagers try to make up for their lack of solid sleep during the school week by sleeping as late as they can on the weekend.  This system doesn’t really work, however.  It leads to irregular sleep habits and may exacerbate the problem in the long run.

 

How much sleep does the typical teenager need?

On average, 9 ¼ hours a night.

 

How much do they typically get?

On average, 7 ½ hours a night.

 

What are some of the problems associated with this lack of sleep?

Lack of sleep has serious repercussions on teenagers’ physical, mental and emotional health.  Sleep deprivation among teens is linked to depression, susceptibility to illness and injury, irritability, car and other accidents, stunted growth and even obesity.  It also lowers impulse control and reaction times (important for those driving).  It negatively affects their ability to think and learn.

 

Shouldn’t they just go to bed earlier?  Wouldn’t they then be able to get up early and be alert?

No. The circadian rhythms that regulate teenagers’ sleep give them a second burst of wakefulness in the evening.  If forced to go to bed earlier than their bodies are telling them to, they may simply stare at the ceiling until their bodies’ melatonin kicks in around 11 pm, enabling them finally to sleep.  The melatonin remains in their system, keeping them sleepy until around 8 am.

 

If they weren’t due at school until later, wouldn’t teenagers just go to bed even later than they do now and get no more sleep than before?

No. Again, research has shown that this is not the case.  The Minneapolis school system, concerned about the adverse effect of early start times on its teen students, went from a 7:15 am to an 8:40 am start time for high school students in 1997.  A study commissioned by the Minneapolis School Board found that their students went to bed at virtually the same time as before the change and, compared with students at high schools with earlier start times, on average got one hour more sleep per school night.

Other studies have found the same thing-whether comparing students before and after a shift to later start times or comparing neighboring school districts with different start times-the results were the same. Students go to bed at about the same time. The students with later start times sleep longer.

Later start times mean better performance in the classroom, on the field, and behind the wheel.

 

I don’t know that I believe all this research.  Where are you getting this?

One good source of information and research is the National Sleep Foundation (www.sleepfoundation.org), which has compiled a wealth of information on the subject.  Some of it we've linked to on this Web site (See Research on the Home page). The foremost researchers in the area of sleep agree that teenagers do exhibit later circadian rhythms.  Many of them have pointed to early school hours as a major culprit in American teenagers’ sleep deprivation.

The National Sleep Foundation is promoting later secondary school times nationwide, including in Fairfax County.

 

If this is such a good idea, why doesn’t Fairfax County have a later schedule already?

At one time, the Fairfax County Public School System had a two-bell schedule, with later secondary school start times. Going to a three-bell system was designed to save money and optimize the use of school buses, with each doing three runs morning and afternoon.  This meant the school opening times had to be staggered. The high schools were generally set to start first, then the middle schools, then the elementary schools, so that elementary school students wouldn’t have to wait for buses (or walk to school) in the dark.  Once this was established, it was difficult to change because so many interconnected schedules revolved around the new start times.

However, with research piling up about the negative health and educational effects of early start times on teens, and the example of other school systems proving that communities can make the change to later high school start times while resolving conflicts with sports and after-school activities and jobs, this reasoning is no longer valid.

 

Didn't FCPS have a Task Force recommend later start times?

Yes.  Concerned about the impact of early start times on secondary school students, the School Board in 1998 created the Task Force to Study High School Opening Times. At the end of its inquiry, the Task Force, composed of 53 members (a cross-section of parents, teachers, school officials and community representatives) endorsed later start times for middle and high schools in the county. The Task Force also identified several issues that would have to be addressed to achieve these later times. In the six months of its work, the group was unable to agree on a method that could be used countywide to achieve this goal but recommended continued work on the issue.

To see the complete Task Force Report, click here: http://www.fcps.k12.va.us/schlbd/reports/startingtimes.pdf

 

What are the major barriers to change?

There are several, but the two major ones seem to be the bus schedules and extracurricular activities for high school students. Other issues are work schedules for high school students with jobs, reliance on older students to care for younger siblings after school, parent and teacher schedules that might have to be adjusted, and a general resistance to change.

 

Who actually sets the start times for schools in Fairfax County?

School principals have some say in this, and the Fairfax School Board ultimately approves the start times, but much of the actual schedule is designed by the school system’s Department of Facilities and Transportation Services (http://www.fcps.edu/fts/index.htm). This is because the start times are largely dependent on when the buses can get students to and from school.  To maximize the use of the buses, the Transportation department has each generally do two or three runs in the morning and two or three runs in the afternoon.  That means start times must be staggered throughout each school pyramid.

 

How is the current schedule staggered?

Most Fairfax County high schools have a 7:20 am bell, with buses generally dropping students off at school at or before 7 am.  Most middle schools start between 7:25 and 7:50 am, with bus drop-off times usually about 10 minutes earlier. Elementary schools usually start between 8:05 and 9:15 am, with the elementary start times staggered within each FCPS cluster, again to maximize use of the buses.

High schools usually end at 2:10 pm.  Middle schools generally end between 2:20 and 2:40 pm.

To see the bell schedules, click here: http://www.fcps.edu/fts/tran/bell/index.htm

 

Couldn’t we just buy more buses, so everyone could start between 8 and 9 am?

To do this would cost millions of dollars. A massive expenditure for buses isn’t really feasible in the current economic climate.  Having each bus used many times throughout the day is a more efficient use of our resources and allows more funds to be spent on education itself.  SLEEP is looking for low-cost ways to solve the transportation issue, while still maximizing the use of the buses, until such time as the county might find funding for more buses.

 

What is SLEEP proposing to do about the transportation issue?

We are exploring different ideas and options and encouraging the school's Facilities and Transportation Department to arrive at creative solutions, such as those suggested by the FCPS School Board's Transportation Task force in March of 2008. Iteration number three of Transportation's Proposed Bell Schedule uses fewer buses than the current system and changes bell schedules. This version includes some cushion between tiers. According to staff, the start times listed may improve once the schedule is implemented.

Another possibility would be to have elementary schools open somewhat earlier so high schools and middle schools wouldn’t open too late, but elementary school students shouldn’t have to catch buses so early that they are waiting in the dark.

 

Will the public be allowed to tell the School Board what it thinks about the new schedule and suggest changes?

Yes, there will be surveys and town hall-style hearings scheduled by the School Board in late February to allow for public input. Check back on this or the FCPS School Board webpage for announcements.

 

What did the 1998 Task Force look at as transportation alternatives?

The Task Force looked at three alternative schedules: 1) pushing the entire schedule forward by 20 minutes; 2) pushing it forward by 40 minutes; and 3) having all elementary schools start at 8 am and all secondary schools at 9 am. The first two were thought to push the elementary school schedule too late.  The last would have cost an estimated $38 million for more buses and personnel to get to all the schools in that tight timeframe. 

 

Wouldn’t 8:30 am be a good start time for high school?

Yes, but.One thing that is clear is that, because of the bus situation, not everyone can have an 8:30 am start time. To optimize bus use, we now have about a two-hour window for the start times of elementary, middle and high schools (now 7:20-9:15 am).

The third and latest iteration of Transportation Staff's bell schedule has collapsed that window to 1 hr. 50 min. The large majority of elementary schools are in the first "tier" between 7:50 and 8:15, with the rest distributed between the second and third tiers. High schools and secondary schools all start between 8:30 and 8:45 (with one exception); middle schools at 9:40 (also with one exception).

This transportation proposal will cost the school system nothing, uses fewer buses (suggesting future savings for FCPS), takes into account the sleep and learning needs of both young children and adolescents, and will allow for after-school activities and sports. Transportation staff are working on further refinements which should collapse the bell window even more and perhaps allow for middle school to start earlier.

 

Wouldn't this schedule have some elementary children waiting in the dark for early bus pick-ups?

Transportation has said that no elementary school child picked up at a neighborhood bus stop will have a pickup time before 7 am. While a few elementary pickup times are listed before then in the current iteration, Transportation has explained that those would only be for children who are picked up at their own homes, generally because they are in special programs and are driven long distances. The reality is that some elementary school students are currently picked up before 7 a.m. for the same reason--that they are driven long distances to special programs.

 

What are some other suggestions put forth so far?

The Task Force Report also had suggestions on how other modes of transportation might be considered in the future. These included using public transportation where possible for high school students, linking up with Fairfax County's FASTTRAN service for students with special needs. SLEEP would like to see those ideas explored.

Since some high school students drive or carpool to school, recognizing this fact and adjusting bus schedules accordingly might also give more leeway on some school bus routes.

 

What about extracurricular activities and sports?  How would they fit into a later schedule?

The proposed schedule ends high school at 3:20-3:25 pm (with three exceptions, the latest 3:45 pm). The end time for TJ stays as now, at 3:50 pm.

Many practices now start at 4 pm or later, because that's when coaches or fields are available. Others start at 3 pm and must be adjusted for a later end time. County and FCPS staff are preparing reports on how sports practices and games could be adjusted. They have been asked to identify potential challenges and resolutions.

This is complex and may require more than one attempt, just as bus scheduling required several tries. SLEEP is committed to this effort so we can have schedules that work for all students, including athletes.

Click here to read more about it:

 

I've heard that swim and dive teams will be eliminated if the bell schedule change goes through. Is this true?

Some swim and dive parents and coaches have heard a rumor that swim and dive programs will be automatically eliminated due to scheduling conflicts if FCPS goes to later start times for high schools. This is NOT TRUE. The Fairfax County Park Authority has discussed working to accommodate the shift IF FCPS decides change the bell schedule. The practices for swim/dive occur about 40 days each year during the winter. Competitions are usually held on Friday nights.

 

You sound like you think academics should come first.

Yes. As important as sports and extracurriculars are, the first job of the school system is to educate our children.  This has to come first.  SLEEP believes that the school system should fashion a schedule that is best for the health and educational needs of our students and work other considerations around that.

 

Some kids have to work at after-school jobs.  How would that fit in with a later school day?

Teenagers who have after-school jobs are probably the most in need of more sleep.  Early morning school hours make it very difficult for some of these high school students with long work hours to stay in school.  In a study conducted for Minneapolis-area school systems, high schools going to later start times showed improvements in their rates of continuous enrollment and in attendance rates. http://education.umn.edu/carei/Reports/default.html.

The study, conducted by the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota, quoted local employers as saying that later school hours did not affect their businesses or the amount of hours that students were available for work.

Similarly, the 1998 Fairfax Task Force found that employers generally rely on students for evening and weekend hours.  A poll of 15 Fairfax employers found them unanimous in saying that later hours would not impact student work hours.

More recent local surveys of students show that students often don't start working until later in the afternoon or evening. One respondent commented, "I clean office buildings with my father every night from 9 p.m. until midnight." These surveys confirm other research that shows working students sleep less and need the later start times even more than other students. At one local school, students working 20 or more hours per week averaged 37 minutes less sleep per school night than non-working students.

For those students who must work long hours to help support their families, the school system uses a waiver of a full-day to accommodate them.

 

What about high school students who now baby sit for younger siblings after school?

Local surveys show that a relatively small percentage of high school students baby sit for younger siblings after school. It's the change that makes this disruptive and SLEEP will encourage the school board to give people plenty of time to transition and make new childcare arrangements.

Loudoun County has elementary schools start first (similar to the proposal now being considered). High schools there start at 9 a.m.

These high school students are available to stay with younger siblings in the morning and get them off to school.

 

What do teachers think about this?

One thing SLEEP wants to do is survey all interested parties, including teachers.  One survey taken at Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston, cited by the 1998 Task Force, found that nearly two-thirds of the teachers at that school then favored later start times. Some high school teachers say they are concerned that students are not alert, and even sleep, in the first classes of the day.  On the other hand, some teachers prefer an early schedule.  Some with young children want to be home in the afternoon when their children get home from elementary school, and others have said that a later schedule would make them travel to and from school during rush hour.

SLEEP wants to work with teachers to see how a later schedule could best work out for teachers, as well.  Those who prefer an early day could have their planning time before rather than after school, for example.

When Arlington County switched to a later schedule, there was concern that some teachers might transfer to schools with earlier start times to keep to an early schedule. But teacher retention proved not to be a problem. 

 

Have other surveys been done or will they be done to gauge opinion?

The Fairfax County Council of PTA's (FCCPTA) did a survey June 2008 which showed that only 15% of Fairfax County parents preferred the current bell schedule to one proposed in March 2008 by a Transportation Task Force commissioned by the Fairfax County School Board. 61% preferred the TTF proposal to the current bell schedule, with 24% preferring the TTF proposal with some modifications. A summary of the TTF's proposal, as well as the complete 320 page report can be found from links on SLEEP's home page.

The 1998 Fairfax County Task Force referenced several surveys that were taken at various Fairfax County schools showing support for later start times by a majority of parents, students and teachers.  About three-fourths of students at three county high schools supported later times.

In Minneapolis, a survey of parents a year after the change to a later start time found that 92 percent were happy with the change.

Read more details here: http://sleepinfairfax.org/SLEEP_Surveys.htm

 

Didn’t Madison HS try to get a later start time?  What happened to that?

Yes, as a result of a strong lobbying effort at Madison High School by students and parents, with the support of the local school board member and the school principal, attempts were made to get a later start time at that school.

Town Hall meetings were held and people were asked to share pros and cons about the staff proposals. No further actions were taken by FCPS to improve the proposals based on recommendations from that community.

SLEEP started during the school year after these Town Hall meetings.

 

Have other schools districts gone to later start times?

  • The National Sleep Foundation has a list of dozens of school districts around the country that have gone to later start times and dozens more that are  considering a change.

  • Edina, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, became a leader in this movement in 1996 when it changed high schools start times from 7:20 am to 8:30 am. The Minneapolis Public Schools followed in 1997, switching its high school start times from 7:15 to 8:40 am.

  • Orange County, Florida, pushed start times back by about 30 minutes to 7:45-8:00 am for high schoolers after 7 students were hit in the early morning dark, resulting in the death of one teen. The County did need to purchase additional buses to make this schedule change. More recently, Orange County flipped the schedules to save money -- $2 million/year. The latest approach had middle schools starting at 7:20 and high schools at 9:30. Community opinion about the change has been mixed. The School Board voted to flip it back, but now is considering other options - we will be following this story closely. You can read a detailed report on savings here:

  • Locally, Arlington County changed its schedule in 2001 so that high schools there now start at 8:15 am. Loudoun County high schools open at 9:00 and dismiss at 3:48 p.m.; Alexandria City and Falls Church City also have later high school start times.

 

What has been the experience by districts going to a later time?

  • Districts going to later start times have experienced a number of benefits from the change.  Many of the objections to a later schedule disappeared after it became clear that perceived difficulties, such as conflicts with athletic schedules, could be resolved.

  • The University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) has followed the changes made in the Minneapolis public schools.  Among the benefits the CAREI study found
    • One hour more sleep per school night on average
    • Significantly increased attendance rates in all grades
    • Increased continuous enrollment
    • Decreased tardiness
    • Improved behavior
    • Lower rates of depression
    • More student alertness, by teacher report
    • Less sleepiness during school, by student report
    • Fewer trips to school counselors and nurses
    • Teens easier to live with, by parent report

Some parents had expressed skepticism about the change, wondering if all the students activities could be worked around the later schedule.  But a year after the change, 92 percent of parents said they were happy with the new schedule.

There is also evidence that later start times can reduce the number of teen car accidents.  Fayette County, Ky., found that after changing its start time to an hour later crashes among 16-to-18-year-old drivers decreased in the county, while they increased throughout the rest of the state.

There is also evidence that later start times can reduce the number of teen car accidents. Fayette County, Ky., found that after changing its start time to an hour later crashes among 16-to-18-year-old drivers decreased in the county, while they increased throughout the rest of the state.

 

Who supports later start times for secondary schools?

  • The Fairfax County School Board "believes that later start times would be beneficial" (Transportation Task Force Charter, July 2007)
  • The student representatives to the School Board have supported later start times from 2004-present.
  • The FCPS Student Advisory Council (2004 vote and in its High Schools of the Future recommendations)
  • The 1998 FCPS Task Force to Study High School Opening Times (made up of parents, teachers, administrators, students and community members)
  • The FCPS Transportation Task Force (2008)
  • The National Sleep Foundation
  • The Medical Society of Northern Virginia
  • The Virginia PTA
  • The Fairfax County Council of PTA's (FCCPTA)
  • The League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area (LWVFA)
  • School Health Advisory Committee (Fairfax County Public Schools)

 

Other than signing the petition, how else can I help?

  • Add your name to our email distribution list
  • Volunteer to be a pyramid coordinator or co-coordinator
  • Sign up with your pyramid coordinator to help with the effort in your area
  • Volunteer to speak before your PTA
  • Volunteer to testify before the School Board, Board of Supervisors or other government groups with influence over this issue
  • Write letters to your School Board members and the School Superintendent
  • Talk with other parents about the need for later start times and how to get involved
  • Talk with your school principal and your child’s teachers and coaches about the need for later start times
  • Get the word out about SLEEP’s efforts and this Web site
  • Review and use the materials in the “Take Action & Help” Section of the Website.

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