The Board of Education on Tuesday voted to move high school and middle school start times back by 20 minutes starting with the 2015-2016 school year.
The decision, made via a 5-3 vote, comes after years of study and debate over what many parents have said is a high school start time that is too early and negatively affects the health of county teenagers.
Starting next school year, high school start times will be moved back to 7:45 a.m. from 7:25 a.m. Middle school start times will be moved to 8:15 a.m. from 7:55 a.m.
Elementary school start times, which have two schedule tiers, will move back 10 minutes to 9:10 a.m. and 9:35 a.m.
The debate on Tuesday centered around many of the same issues that have permeated the discussion since Superintendent Joshua Starr reversed course on his own October 2013 recommendation that would’ve pushed back high school start times by 50 minutes and extended the elementary school day by 30 minutes.
Starr and the BOE agreed that recommendation was too expensive. It was estimated to cost $21 million, mostly in new transportation expenses that would come from needing more drivers and buses to get kids to school.
In January, Starr recommended moving school start times back 20 minutes, calling it a modest, but reasonable “move in the right direction.” There will be no extra costs to MCPS.
In the end, Starr’s recommendation was the option the Board chose, though not before Board member Phil Kauffman made a motion to start elementary schools first. The option would’ve cost $3.9 million extra per year and Kauffman suggested delaying the schedule change until the 2016-2017 school year to allow for implementation.
But a solid majority of Board members spoke up against the idea. Board members Michael Durso and Judith Docca said having elementary school kids return home before their older siblings could mean extra child care costs for families that couldn’t afford it.
Strangely enough, Durso and Docca were two of the three Board members, along with Chris Barclay, who voted against the alternate 20-minute recommendation. Neither proposed their own motion, despite the fact the Board had identified a series of options with multiple variations that all would’ve cost less than $10 million.
The debate and vote followed a regular public comment session that angered most members on the Board.
Mandi Mader, a mental health counselor who testified in favor of substantial changes to start times, attempted to connect Monday’s suicide by a Silver Spring middle schooler to the idea that students weren’t getting enough sleep.
Board President Patricia O’Neill chastised her, as did Barclay, several other members and Starr, who was presiding over his final Board of Education meeting before his resignation takes effect.
Barclay took his criticism of start school later proponents one step further, claiming they were “using poor kids as fodder” by arguing later school start times would help solve the achievement gap. He called that “just troubling.”
Local parent and start schools later advocate Ann Gallagher testified that it was “insulting to characterize us as a bunch of Bethesda-based rabble rousers.” Gallagher was referring to an MCPS analysis of public input on bell times that identified Bethesda as the primary source of opinions about the issue.
Many behind the effort to move back high school start times argued 20 minutes wasn’t nearly enough. After Starr made the recommendation, one group called it “a sham.”
Dahlia Huh, Rebecca Smondrowski, Jill Ortman-Fouse, O’Neill and Kauffman voted in favor of the 20-minute move.