The momentum appears to be slowing, but as of today, just over 7,000 people have signed a petition urging Montgomery County Public Schools to start high school later in the morning.
The issue continues to draw support from those who believe that the 7:25 a.m. start time for Montgomery County public high schools is too early and detrimental to the health, safety and academic performance of students.
With all that support, parents in favor of a change may be disheartened to learn that the principals of two of MCPS’s top performing high schools don’t believe it’s a feasible idea.
In fact, Walt Whitman High School Principal Alan Goodwin is opposed to changing the start time and thinks that moving it later in the morning would cause more problems than it would solve. And though Michael Doran, principal of Rockville’s Thomas S. Wootton High School, would prefer a later start time so that students weren’t so sluggish in early classes, he agrees that it “might solve one problem and start another problem.”
“It’s not like what we’ve got wasn’t working, is not working, and there’s going to be a disaster,” Doran said recently. “If there were real issues with grades and learning, this would come up more often with educators.”
Still, the veteran principal notes that “we make it work, but I also think kids’ health is important.”
While no one disagrees that teens could benefit from more sleep, Goodwin thinks that students are more likely to go bed later if they know they can sleep an extra hour in the morning. And even though teens favor a later start time, “not one has said they’d like a later ending time. They like getting out at 2:10 [p.m.]” to participate in extracurricular activities, he said.
When it comes to changing start times, logistics—especially those related to transportation— trumps other issues, the principals said. Bus scheduling and traffic are major concerns.
“I don’t think anybody really thinks that being in school at 7 o’clock is the best thing,” Doran said. “The reality is, how do we get these kids in the building?”
If high schools were to start after 8:15 a.m., students would be heading to school well into the morning rush hour, with elementary and middle school students possibly starting out even later. “The traffic in this area becomes more voluminous every 15 minutes,” Goodwin noted, meaning that students would have to leave more time to get to school, resulting in a diminishing “net gain in rest.”
That goes as well for teachers who may live far from their schools and may face longer travel times to get to work. And it isn’t a good idea to switch high school start times with those for elementary schools because it’s not safe to have young children—who may not be accompanied by adults—waiting for buses or walking to school that early, Goodwin said.
If the school day lasts longer, that means buses would be on the road later in the day, potentially running into evening rush hour.
“The bottom line is we can’t transport all the kids at the same time,” Doran said. “It really becomes a lot more complex the more you know. It’s not an easy yes or no.”
Goodwin said he considers the problem of sleepy teens to largely be a parenting issue. It’s important to enforce a bedtime schedule and not let students sleep too long on weekends because that messes up their cycles for the next week, he said.
“Every year this [issue] comes up with the incoming ninth-grade parents,” he said. “I understand. I had two teenage boys. It was a challenge to get them up.”