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Spend Millions To Let Teens Sleep Later?

If you ask the teenager who lives in my house, the natural sleep times for an adolescent are about 2:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. I actually think setting high school start times for noon would be a great step forward for society in many ways (eliminating that late afternoon time when so many teens are unsupervised, for example), but back on planet Earth, the decades-long debate over school start times focuses more on whether school should begin at, say, 7:20 a.m. or 9 a.m.

In Fairfax County, the debate over school start times has dragged on for years, but a task force appointed by the county school board has proposed major changes that would make teenagers' lives a good deal more sane. High school would no longer start at around 7:20, but more like 8:35 a.m. To make that happen, start times for middle schoolers would push even later than they are now, to about 9:20 a.m. for many kids.

To debate this proposal, Phyllis Payne of SLEEP, the Fairfax group pushing for later start times, and Patricia Velkoff, a high school parent and task force member who voted against the plan, join me today on Raw Fisher Radio. The show streams live at noon and can be found anytime thereafter at

"We don't send kids to school hungry, and we shouldn't send them to school sleepy," says Payne, who argues that later start times for teens has been shown to improve discipline and academic performance in schools, cut teen driving accidents and teen depression, and make students more likely to become engaged in their classes.

But spending the money necessary to adjust bus schedules in a big county such as Fairfax, as well as all the other economic effects of shifting the hours of schools, is just not a priority, given the need to pay attention to childhood obesity and other health and safety issues in public schools, says Velkoff.

Lots more from both of them, on today's Raw Fisher Radio. Please join us.

By Marc Fisher |  September 23, 2008; 11:36 AM ET
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Enjoy Marc

Posted by: Kev | September 23, 2008 1:10 PM

I will admit from the outset I don't understand the thing about the bus schedule. So push all the bus schedules back an hour?

I would be for that proposal. I'm not a morning person - I still have a hard time getting up before 7 (and I'm 35). And it's not because I'm staying up until all hours. Some people are able to get up at the crack of dawn easily & some aren't. And I would imagine most teenagers fall in the latter category, even if most of them eventually grow out of it.

I guess if I drove to work I might have a different take on the buses driving when I am.

Posted by: liz | September 23, 2008 4:49 PM


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Posted by: Carl Wahlstrom | September 24, 2008 5:08 AM

Sorry no money in the budget. High schools kids may have to get up even earlier to walk to school since the budget cuts will curtail some bus service.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 24, 2008 6:32 AM

Hey Carl, why don't you take out a PAID ad in the WaPo to peddle your wares?

Posted by: Just Sayin | September 24, 2008 8:16 AM

OMG!! How in the world did we survive the last 100 years with all of us getting up early to go to school?

Let's change everything RIGHT NOW so this generation of kids will not have to go through the horrible situation we were in.

OK, enough sarcasm.

Time to tell the PC do-gooders we are through with them and their ideas. The USSR failed, so don't push it on us anymore.

KIDS!!! Go to bed at 10. No exceptions, no excuses. Get up at 6. If eight hours of sleep isn't enough, go to bed earlier.

You don't need to hang with the homies on the street corner until 2 AM anymore.

PARENTS!!! Time to grow a pair and take charge of your family's lives. YOU are in charge, not the kids.

Posted by: DC Voter | September 24, 2008 9:01 AM

100 years ago, school didn't start at 7:20. In fact, the start times have creeped slowly back as have bus pickup times. High schools used to start at 9 a.m. Now, students are boarding buses before 6 a.m.

Eight hours is NOT enough for developing teenagers. They need 9 hours.

Where's all this anger coming from? Perhaps you are a little sleep-deprived and feeling cranky?

Changing the bell times doesn't actually need to cost a single penny. Places have been able to make this change without additional buses/costs.

In fact, done properly, changing the bell schedules can save money.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 25, 2008 8:47 PM

Two points: (1) more sleep matters, but later sleep - after 6 a.m. is most important. Validated statistically relevant and reliable studies back up dramatic academic gains from this (more than 10 percent).
(2) the Task Force proposals SAVE Fairfax County $15 million, while bringing later start times. They do NOT cost the schools a dime.
When you face a $160 million shortfall, and have the opportunity to improve academic performance AND save money, you should snap it up. And so should the FCPS.

Posted by: DREED | September 26, 2008 9:08 AM

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