More than 150 people attended the first of four community forums about changes to school start and end times held Monday at Paint Branch High School in Silver Spring.
Parents, students, and teachers were given the opportunity to share their opinions about Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua P. Starr’s recommendations to move the start time for the school system’s high schools back 50 minutes, from 7:25 a.m. to 8:15 a.m.; move the middle school first bell from 7:55 a.m. to 7:45 a.m., and keep elementary school start times the same, but extend the day by 30 minutes.
“We can’t charge up and make changes without hearing people’s opinion and how it impacts them,” said John Matthews, chairman of the 2013 Bell Times Work Group. The group, formed in December 2012, studied the bell times’ impact on students’ sleep habits.
“First we want to find out what they think. Then next, we want to find out what is the impact on them,” Matthews said, adding that the goal is to find out if the impacts are going to be significant enough to “make us want to do something different or supportive enough to make us want to continue with a plan like this.”
During the meeting, some of the challenges mentioned by the community were the impact on parents who rely on older children to take care of their siblings before they come home from work; loss of family quality time for very young children; parents of high school children who will have to stay home for an additional hour, and safety issues with more adolescents driving later in the afternoon during rush hour.
Suzanne Paholski, who has two kids in high school, said she is “not in favor of it.”
“By pushing back the start time you push back everything in the day. Not just school, but after-school activities, family time, and bed time,” Paholski said, adding that her children go to sleep at 10:30 p.m. and get up at 6:30 a.m.
“I don’t have problems getting them up in the morning,” she added.
Gabriel Coxson, 14, who goes to Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, said that starting school later will not help students, especially high school students.
“The only benefit is going to be for people who actually go home, and actually get right to homework, and go to sleep...I am not one of those people.”
But not everyone was completely against the proposal.
Dorothy Gardner, a Montgomery County Public School ESOL teacher and parent, said she asked her students to speak with their parents about bell times and came representing them.
“I did have one class where parents were really for the time change because it is dark [in the morning], and it is really early,” Gardner said.
Gardner’s older high school class spoke about a completely different issue.
“They have to pick up their brothers and sisters,” the teacher said, adding that she sees the benefits on both sides.
Schools officials said a final decision won’t be made until all the community input has been gathered on the recommendations, and full cost and operational impacts have been determined.
“We don’t want ignore anybody,” said Matthews.
The next community forum is scheduled to take place on Dec. 16 in Rockville at Richard Montgomery High School, located at 250 Richard Montgomery Drive.