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Community voices opinion on later start times for schools

Wednesday, Jun. 11 | By Hannah Dellinger
At Monday night’s Fauquier County School Board meeting seven parents and community members voiced their opinions about the possibility of pushing Fauquier County public high schools’ start times back an hour later.

FCPS School Support Council Chairwoman Judy Olsen has taken on the challenge of educating teachers, students, administrators and parents about study findings that show the academic, physical and emotional benefits of adopting a later start time for students with her organization, Sleep Matters Fauquier.

Olson argues that everyone has a natural sleep and wake cycle that changes with age and is determined by melatonin in the body. According to research that she presented to the School Board, a teenager’s natural sleep cycle starts at 11 p.m. and ends at 8 a.m. right before the sleep cycle begins, teenagers are the most alert than any other time of day.

She asserts that this means that forcing high school students to sleep when their bodies are telling them not to will not be effective, and teenagers that must wake up early for the bus will inevitably be deprived of sleep.

Olson outlined the following benefits taken from reputable studies in her presentation:

Physical:
Fewer sports injuries (American Academy of Pediatrics study.)
Increased athletic performance (Stanford University study.)
Fewer car accidents (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine study.)
Less obesity (Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania study.)

Emotional:
Fewer emotional outbursts.*
Decreased incidents of bullying.*
Decreased incidents of violence, including weapons (National Institutes of Health.)
Less depression, anxiety and suicide (American Academy of Sleep Medicine.)
(*Numerous studies and surveys of teenagers have shown these results.)

Scholastic:
Improved abstract thinking skills*
Improved focus and participation in class*
Improved attendance and fewer tardies*
Higher graduation rates*
Improved academic performance (Study by economist Finely Edwards in Wake County, NC.)
(*Schools across the country that moved to later start times note these changes after moving to a later start time.)

FCPS parent Diane Searles made it clear at the meeting that she believes that if parents want their children to get more sleep, they must implement stricter bed times.

“I agree that we could all use more sleep, I know that I could,” said Searles. “But I don’t know of an employer who will let you chose to come in later if you want to.”

Searles said that it is important to teach children how the “real world” works by teaching them that they must to go to sleep as early as may be necessary.

Four of the seven people who spoke about the start times were in favor of the possible change. Three of the speakers expressed that the idea is not a good choice for the county or that the School Board should focus its attention and discussion to what they deemed “more important issues.”

At the meeting the School Board also approved the selection of a new assistant principal for Liberty High School.
The appointment of Nick Napolitano from the Fairfax County Public School system to the newly open position became necessary after LHS Principal Roger Lee announced his retirement earlier in the school year. Current LHS Assistant Principal Sam Cox was chosen to head the school as principal last month.

School Board action items:

The Board voted to adopt a resolution to elect mandatory employer retirement contribution rates for 2015 through 2016 biennium.

The Board approved the adjustment of four positions in the school division: the addition of one permanent full-time human resources specialist, the addition of one permanent full-time special education teaching position along with the elimination of two vacant special education instructional assistant positions, making the supervisor for advances studies and fine arts position full-time and permanent and making the a part-time mental health position into a full-time job.

The Board approved a newly amended unified pay scale for fiscal year 2015.

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