MCPS: Listen to pediatricians and push back high school start times


Nicky Gandolfo

At long last, MCPS officials need to allow students to get an adequate amount of sleep.

By William Hallward-Driemeier


My alarm clock’s vicious cycle starts off my weekday mornings. It’s a little after 6 a.m., and I am too groggy to accept that I likely won’t get any more sleep for another 17 hours. I silence my alarm, hoping that maybe waking up at 6:37 a.m. instead of 6:34 a.m. will be the difference I need to feel alert throughout the school day.

MCPS high school classes begin at 7:45 a.m. each morning. This is earlier than the start times of both middle and elementary schools, which begin at 8:15 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., respectively. However, classes used to begin even earlier for all students. In 2015, MCPS pushed middle school and high school start times back by 20 minutes, and delayed elementary school start times by 10 minutes. Many members of the Whitman community praise the schedule changes to this day.

“I am grateful for the 2015 start time delay,” junior Kabir Mehndiratta said. “I already feel like I have to wake up so early, and I can’t imagine having to wake up even earlier.”

For the sake of students’ wellbeing, school district leaders still need to take it one step further. MCPS should change school start times so elementary schools begin the earliest — at 8:30 a.m. — middle schools begin half an hour later, at 9:00 a.m., and high schools start later still, at 9:30 a.m.

Starting school when the sun is often barely out forces high school students to get far less sleep than experts recommend. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages teenagers to get between eight and 10 hours of sleep per night, but the organization reported in 2018 that only 27% of high school students get this amount of sleep each night. This makes sense because high school students often have large amounts of homework, time-intensive extracurriculars and other out-of-school activities.

Allowing students to get an adequate amount of sleep is crucial. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that a lack of sleep correlates with health problems, like being overweight, as well as poor academic performance. This helps explain why the AAP recommends that both middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

It would make more sense for elementary school students to begin school closer to the sunrise, since students tend to wake up earlier when they’re younger.

“Waking up at 6:40 in the morning everyday is really frustrating and limits the amount of sleep I get,” sophomore Colton Allman-Bendall said. “When I was in elementary school, I naturally woke up at 5 a.m., so moving the start of elementary school up wouldn’t have been any issue for me.”

It’s not just students who are in favor of starting school later. Some educators, like math teacher Michelle Holloway, recognize the benefits of delaying school start times.

“I think it would be beneficial to push back school start times as it would decrease traffic,” Holloway said. “The buses would face less traffic if they no longer had to compete with rush hour traffic. For me personally, it would also allow me to run in the morning, which makes me teach much better during the day.”

Many argue that delaying school start times could make bus schedules unmanageable, since the buses would have to operate at different times. However, one would expect that there would only be issues if MCPS just pushed back the start times of high schools. By moving back the start times of all schools, MCPS would likely be able to manage the situation similarly to how they do now. Bus schedules would still be staggered. The buses would just be transporting students of different ages at new times.

Opponents may also put forth that pushing back school start times could make participating in extracurriculars less feasible since students would have less time after school. However, most extracurriculars only last around an hour. If high schools began at 9:30 a.m., classes would end at 4:15 p.m., which would leave plenty of time for after-school activities. There’s also an added benefit in that this timing would better align with the schedules of parents who work 9-5 jobs.

Waking up in the morning shouldn’t be the hardest part of the day. However, it can often feel that way when wake-up time is far before the sun wakes up itself.