Starr backpedals on plan to let students sleep in -- Gazette.Net







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Montgomery County students won’t be changing their alarm clock settings after all.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr announced Tuesday that, following school system analysis and community feedback, he is stepping away from the recommendation he had made in October to change school start times.

Starr said in a Tuesday school system release that implementing the proposed changes would be too expensive and that community feedback on the plan was “mixed.”

He initially recommended that high schools start 50 minutes later, middle schools start 10 minutes earlier and elementary schools end their day 30 minutes later.

The proposal centered on starting high schools at 8:15 a.m. instead of 7:25 a.m. to allow high school students to get more sleep. Starr said in October that there’s “a clear link” between sleep and students’ health and well-being.

The proposed shifts at the middle school and elementary school level were made in part to ensure that the school system’s buses could continue to be used for multiple routes each morning and afternoon.

Changing the bell times, however, would translate to significant added costs estimated to be at least $21.6 million per year, Starr said in a memo to county school board members.

The school system faces other priorities that need to be funded, including hiring more school counselors and psychologists and expanding technology use, he said.

The costs associated with the change include those related to transportation and staffing, according to a June report reviewing community input on and the estimated financial impacts of Starr’s proposal.

Starr said in a Tuesday interview that he was not surprised by the mixed feedback on his proposal because it matched informal conversations he has had over the last 18 months or so with students, parents and teachers about the possibility of different bell times.

The school system used several avenues to determine public opinion, including community forums, surveys, discussion groups and emails.

“We got extensive community feedback that is not conclusive at all,” Starr said.

The surveys garnered input from about 15,307 parents, 45,691 students and 14,943 staff members.

About 78 percent of parent survey respondents supported Starr’s proposal, according to the June report.

When asked how the proposal would affect them and their children, about 62 percent of parents said the changes would have a positive effect on students’ energy levels and about 60 percent said they would have a positive effect on students’ readiness to learn, the report said.

High school students and teachers were split nearly exactly down the middle about the proposal.

About 86 percent of high school students who responded to the survey said the shift would mean they would get more sleep, the report said. About 52 percent said it would be harder to participate in after-school activities.

At the elementary-school level, survey results showed that about 65 percent of students and about 70 percent of staff disagreed with the proposal.

The county school system might still return to the issue “in a different way,” Starr said in the interview.

“I think the door is not totally closed,” he said.

The county school board is scheduled to discuss the issue at its June 17 meeting.