Montgomery and Anne Arundel residents are stepping up their advocacy to see that high school start times are pushed back, for the health benefits they say it will bring children.
About 30 people gathered Saturday at a conference titled “Exploring the Adolescent Need for Sleep” at the Montgomery College campus in Rockville to hear experts talk about the benefits, and potential issues that come with making the change.
The conference was hosted by national group Start School Later and independent researcher The Lloyd Society.
Speakers emphasized the importance of students getting sleep, with Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center, comparing sleep deprivation to drug use.
A Montgomery County Public Schools work group is looking into the issue, after being directed to do so in December by Superintendent Joshua P. Starr after a petition started by parent Mandi Mader gathered more than 10,000 signatures.
The work group, which includes Mader, has met three times since December. Mader said Saturday she did not want to reveal what the group was discussing, but she remains optimistic.
The group has been tasked with coming up with a recommendation by the end of the school year.
At the state level, Mader and Heather Macintosh, who are the leaders of the Montgomery and Anne Arundel branches of Start School Later, are helping advocate for a bill in the General Assembly they say will make it easier for local systems to make the change.
The bill, introduced by Del. Aruna Miller (D-Dist. 15) of Darnestown, would establish a statewide taskforce that would study a later start time for Maryland public schools and then make a recommendation. The bill has 19 other sponsors from across the state and is scheduled to be heard at 1 p.m. Friday.
There are complications that come with pushing back high schools’ start time, including rearranging bus transportation, school sports and activities, and moving around the start time for elementary and middle schools.
In order to make the change, you need a committed superintendent, Deborah deFranco, Arlington school system’s director of health, physical education and athletics, told the crowd on Saturday.
Arlington pushed high school start times back from 7:30 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. in 2001, and, since, deFranco said there have been no major drawbacks.
“Change is never easy,” deFranco said. “You just have to make the leap.”
In Montgomery, high school starts at 7:25 a.m. Mader, of Garrett Park, and others want it moved to after 8:15 a.m.
Mader said she has hope that Starr will be supportive.
Abigail da Silva, a junior at Walt Whitman High School who attended the conference Saturday, said that she thinks it is important to make the change, and the details can be worked out.
She said she and her friends struggle to stay awake in early morning classes.
“Sometimes after I get out of class I ask my friend, ‘Do I have a spot on my head?’ from where I rest my forehead on my desk,” da Silva said.