EDUCATION

School start times in Montgomery County discussed from Oct 28

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Parents and students in Montgomery County will get their chance to weigh in on school start times beginning October 28.

It's been an ongoing debate for years, but the change could finally happen by the 2015-2016 school year.

This time last year, concerned parents launched a petition asking the school system to change high school start times to 8:15 am. That's 50 minutes later than what it is now.

Today, that petition has more than 11,500 signatures, and also the support of the school superintendent.

With duties ranging from homework to extracurricular activities, getting to bed before 11 p.m. isn't easy for Walter Johnson High School student Quentin Auster. He wakes up at 5:50 am every day to make it to first period by 7:25 am.

"If they're not sleeping until 10:30 or 11 because of their biology, and their alarm goes off at 5:45, they can't get the nine hours they need to be healthy and safe," said MCPS parent and psychotherapist Mandi Mader.

Mader took notice of this growing problem, especially among her patients, and called for change. She eventually joined a work group to take a closer look at the issue.

"We looked at all the current research we looked at other districts that have done this..and began to look at some possible options should the Board and Superintendent decide to do this," said Mader.

Based on the study, Superintendent Joshua Starr recommended pushing high school start times to 8:15 am, while moving middle school start times 10 minutes earlier, and extending the elementary school day by 30 minutes.

Similar bell schedules are already in place in Loudoun and Arlington County Public Schools.

"This has been done. It can be done with minimal disruption and minimal cost," said Mader.

But before making a final decision, the school community will get several opportunities to offer feedback starting Monday night at Paint Branch High School.

Starr said, "I just want to make sure that before we fund it, before we go forward, we really understand as much as we can the implications for our students, our families, our community."

Ahead of the first meeting, some students we spoke with say their current schedules work well for them.

"I don't think we'd get any more sleep because kids would just end up going to bed later because extracurriculars would be pushed back," said Auster.

"Their schedules would completely change and I think it would be harder to have time for homework, and other things after school, " said MCPS student Micah Castelo.

Three more forums are scheduled through February:

Monday, December 16: Richard Montgomery High School, 250 Richard Montgomery Drive in Rockville

Monday, January 6: Seneca Valley High School, 19401 Crystal Rock Drive in Germantown

Monday, February 10: Montgomery Blair High School, 51 University Blvd., East, in Silver Spring

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