Once again Fairfax County is looking into whether high schools should open later to accommodate students’ “natural sleep cycles,” this time seeking the help of sleep doctors. Last year the Fairfax County School Board brought up the idea of hiring a consultant to identify an effective way to delay the high school starting time without impacting the budget and drastically affecting families’ daily lifestyles, and this year, it seems as if they finally have. Teaming up with a slew of specialists, Fairfax County Public Schools are trying to create a plan to push back high school start times, changing the current beginning of the school day from 7:20 a.m. to 8 a.m. or later.

Research shows that teens’ body clocks are set differently than younger kids or adults, preventing them from falling asleep until around 11 p.m. and waking up much before 8 a.m. Studies prove that as a result, the first class at school is often not given much thought with as many as 28 percent of students nodding off, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll. Some don’t even show up, which also lends for an increase in dropout rates and possible failure.

“The experts say that waking a high school student up at 6 a.m. is like … waking an older adult at 3 a.m. every day,” explained Phyllis Payne, a Fairfax County parent who co-founded the advocacy group Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal(SLEEP).

Sleep deprivation among teenagers has also been linked to obesity and learning issues, even car crashes.

So it would seem like common sense to push high school start times later, right?

Well, despite the factual evidence, it’s money concerns and pure inconvenience that tend to forestall action from being taken.

But that’s not all necessarily true.

For example, last spring in Fairfax County, the transportation department altered a couple shifts in school schedules across the district. Some saw an uptick of five, ten minutes, while others were changed by 30 or 40 minutes. But with such adjustments came a nice financial benefit. While this impacted the “quality of life for many families,” according to a petition, it also saved the school system $500,000 for using the buses more efficiently.

Now with Children’s National Medical Center sleep medicine division working hand-in-hand with the Fairfax County School Board, perhaps these doctors will be able to find a way to implement a new high school start time that serves all stakeholders in the local education system.

Of course, this will not all happen behind closed doors.

According to NBC Washington, town halls and community meetings will be held to host discussions and listen to suggestions from families in the area. An online portal will also be created in a transparent effort to post updates for locals so that they can provide feedback if they want to.



[Featured Image via askville]