School Board Approves Plan To Shift Start And Dismissal Times

Prismatic: In the News | 0 comments

At long last, all Anne Arundel County Public Schools students will reap the physical and mental health benefits from healthy, safe, age-appropriate school start times. During its October 20 meeting, the Board of Education of Anne Arundel County voted unanimously to implement new start times starting in fall 2022. This vote follows a recommendation by Prismatic Services Inc. to delay the shift until the fall as opposed to implementing new start times this January.

Starting with the 2022-2023 school year, schools will move to a bell schedule where elementary schools will begin between 8:00am and 9:00am, middle schools will begin between 8:30am and 9:15am, and high schools will begin at 8:30am. The development of school-specific start times is in the works and will be released in the coming months.

There is an avalanche of research detailing the benefits of healthy start times. School systems across the country that have made this change have witnessed amazing results including improved attendance, student mental health, test scores, and graduation rates as well as no negative effects when it comes to athletics and student jobs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not getting enough sleep is common among high school students and is associated with several health risks including being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco and using drugs, as well as poor academic performance. One common reason our adolescent children do not get enough sleep is early school start times. School start times is both a health and a safety issue.

For decades AACPS, like many American school systems, has chronically imposed bell schedules for high school well before the 8:30am or later start time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics since 2014. There are also many extremely late starting elementary schools which begin as late as 9:40am each morning. I feel both extremes are damaging. Not only do our current start times force our children to walk to or from school or a bus stop in the dark; our teens are not getting the sleep their developing brains and bodies require. Our late-starting elementary schools also leave little daylight during the winter months for students to play outside after school and place a huge burden on working families to secure both before and after care for their children.

A study of 28,000 elementary, middle and high school students — published in SLEEP by Oxford University Press — revealed significant benefits of later school start times for middle and high school students’ sleep schedules and the percent of elementary school students reporting sufficient sleep duration, poor sleep quality, or daytime sleepiness did not change over the course of the study. Participating elementary schools started 60 minutes earlier, middle, 40 to 60 minutes later, and high school started 70 minutes later. The benefits of later start times were similar across racial and socioeconomic groups.

Researchers from the University of Washington found later school start times to be associated with reduced sleepiness, increased academic performance, and an increase in punctuality and attendance in disadvantaged populations, which “could decrease the achievement gap between low and high socioeconomic groups.”

When school start times were delayed by about 90 minutes in one county in Virginia, teenagers were involved in fewer weekday car accidents when compared to a nearby school with similar traffic patterns. Researchers believe the additional sleep time helped reduce crashes among teenage drivers.

In a study published by The Journal of School Health — which reviewed 38 reports examining the association between school start times, sleep, and other outcomes among adolescent students — found that later start times also generally correspond to improved attendance, less tardiness, less falling asleep in class, better grades, and fewer motor vehicle crashes and found no changes in number of hours engaged in athletics, extracurricular activities, and homework. Similarly, in a study published by Science Advances, researchers found that students who slept more achieved better grades and had improved attendance in school.

Change is never easy. Successful implementation of this system-wide change will require significant collaboration between the Board of Education and Dr. George Arlotto and his staff, careful choreography between the school system and the county, child care providers, our many bus contractors, and every bargaining unit as well as plenty of communication with our families. I very much look forward to seeing this positive change fully implemented and am committed to hearing your concerns at every step of this process. I can be reached at dschallheim@aacps.org.