Montgomery County parents and students are speaking up about school start times, and the county's school superintendent is responding.
An online petition, "Changing Montgomery County, MD's High School Start Times to 8:15 AM or Later," has asked the county school board to "officially recognize the large and compelling body of research regarding teen sleep and academic achievement," and "to start high schools in Montgomery County, MD, after 8:15 [a.m.]."
On Tuesday, schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr announced that a work group would study the issue.
That will come as good news to the petition's signers, who already numbered 10,151 by 3 p.m. Thursday.
"Sleep deprivation, with such health consequences as depression, suicide, car crashes, and increased risk of other injuries, should be treated like hunger," Mandi Mader, a licensed social worker, founder of Start School Later Montgomery County and the online petition's contact person, said in a blog on Patch.
"We don’t expect children to learn without food and we shouldn’t expect them to learn without sleep," Mader wrote.
Starr's "work group will look at past reports done by MCPS on the issue; review public input and correspondence that has been received; analyze the efforts of other jurisdictions that have considered changing bell times; review current literature and research; and gather community input," according to a Montgomery County Public Schools news release.
"This is a very complex issue and I want to make sure we have a full understanding of the impact that school bell times have on student achievement and other areas of development," Starr said. "A change in school bell times would affect every student in Montgomery County, and would have a significant impact on our budget and operations. Therefore, it is imperative we have all the information we need before making any decisions."
Comments on recent Patch blog posts on the issue have included:
I'm very tired at school. - Jeri, Bethesda
At the time that school starts now, I often find myself skipping homework for sleep, and even with that, I can't concentrate or remember most of my classes. I've also been late due to oversleeping. - Alexandra, Silver Spring
This is ridiculous. I wake up knowing I can't sleep for hours and hours. I just need at LEAST 1 more hour of sleep. I wake up at 6 - Marc, Chevy Chase
I know many people who suffer from anxiety and depression, stress plays a big part in all that. Not enough sleep causes stress. - Nora, Silver Spring
Read more petition comments on Heather Macintosh's Patch blog post, "Start School Later: The Kids Are Exhausted."
Read more of Macintosh's Patch blogs on the subject.
MCPS has studied the issue before—in 1998, after which it released a report, Changing Bell Times. No changes were made to school start times as a result of the report.
Starr's work group will begin meeting soon, and a report should be completed at some time in the spring.
Read more about the fight to start school later and join in the Patch poll on whether schools should start later on Potomac Patch.