House of Delegates to consider later school start time bill
April 4, 2013
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State lawmakers may become the latest participants in Montgomery County’s contentious debate over later school start times. The Maryland House of Delegates is considering a bill that would establish a statewide task force to study a later start time for Maryland public schools. The bill has 20 sponsors from across the state.
The bill would establish a committee consisting of state education officials, health professionals, a doctor specializing in sleep disorders, a parent and a student. The group would review the science of adolescent sleep needs, study other school systems’ decisions to begin school later and make recommendations by the end of the year.
Mandi Mader, an MCPS parent who leads the Montgomery County branch of the national coalition Start School Later, testified in support of the bill March 15. Representatives from Poolesville, Anne Arudel County and Howard County also testified.
“We’re just asking for a task force to study the problem on a larger scale than just county by county,” Mader said. “It’s very hard for superintendents and school districts to do this one by one. We thought that taking this to a statewide discussion was a good next step. We know that if creative, smart people put their heads together and think outside the box, they can come up with a solution.”
While the present bill does not include statewide action other than the creation of a task force, the task force could recommend that the state prohibit schools from starting before a specific time, Mader said.
Principal Alan Goodwin does not favor statewide action on the issue. Counties should be free to make their own decisions about school start times, he said.
“Every county has its own unique situations,” he said. “For instance, some places are rural and others are more crowded, like ours. If the state came out with a mandate, that would be counter-productive.”
A statewide task force would have to consider the pros and cons of earlier start times. Early school start times impact health and safety because many students drive to school drowsy, Mader said. On the other hand, changing start times would require changes in busing logistics and may create inconveniences for parents who would have to rearrange schedules, she said.
Starting school later has other disadvantages as well. Ending later takes time away from sports, jobs and internships, assistant principal Kathy McHale said. Also, opening later doesn’t completely translate into extra sleep time because later start times coincide with peak rush-hour traffic times, forcing kids to leave more time to get to school, she said.
Superintendent Joshua Starr has already directed an MCPS work group to study the issue and make a recommendation by the end of the school year. Goodwin and Mader are members of the group.
“We’re studying the research and getting input,” Mader said. “We want to hear from all the stakeholders. We’re making progress and working well together.”