Montgomery County residents have started an official chapter of the Start School Later Initiative, petitioning school officials to give students and parents a break from early school start times.
In just under a week, the new chapter lead by Garret Park resident Mandi Mader, a Walter John High School mom, has grabbed more than 2,500 signatures for a petition to the county school board and Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr. The group is encouraging lawmakers to start school no earlier than 8:15 a.m., allowing kids more time for sleep and rest and teachers more time to prepare lessons.
“We respectfully request our school board to officially recognize the large and compelling body of research regarding teen sleep and academic achievement, and, with a resolution, to set a goal to start high schools in Montgomery County, MD, after 8:15 a.m.,” the petition states.
Mader, a licensed clinical social worker with an interest in teen therapy, said she was inspired to start the chapter after witnessing the effects of sleep deprivation on her clients. With two students in the Montgomery County public school system, the issue is particularly close to home, she said.
When Madar joined the health and safety committee of the Walter Johnson High School PTA, Mader says she found other parents passionate about the issue and decided to take action.
“I have been on my high horse about sleep and teens for a long time,” Mader said. “I see so many depressed, suicidal teens. It breaks my heart to see kids so tired.”
After hosting meetings at her house and reaching out to other parents for help getting organized, Mader says she contacted the national Start School Later Initiative, which helped get her started.
Nearly 2,500 residents have already signed the Montgomery County-specific petition, with addresses all over the county – Takoma Park to Poolesville. Of those signatures, 800-plus residents signed on Wednesday alone.
Patch readers were polled informally in March about the initiative and more than 80 percent of readers who responded agreed that school times should start later.
“We’re thrilled about the level of local interest while we bash away at the national level,” said initiative organizer Heather Macinstosh. “It’s volunteers like Mandi and the other members of her community that we really need to help move this mountain.”
Macintosh has blogged often about the issue on Patch.
Mader says official action from neighboring jurisdictions, including Arlington and Loudoun counties, has contributed to the interest in Montgomery. Neighboring officials in Fairfax County this summer started their third official attempt to push back school start times for students in high school.
One of the biggest issues with changing school start times is coordinating bus schedules for drivers making multiple pick-ups and drop-offs each day. In Fairfax County, 1,081 buses transport about 130,000 students each day.
In Montgomery County, a switch would likely be similarly complicated, with 1,264 buses transporting 98,000 students, according to Montgomery County Public School figures.
Getting 98,000 students to school on time has sometimes meant that students arrive at school 30 minutes to an hour before classes start, Mader said.
“It’s a very big, complicated decision,” Mader said. “It’s hard to find bus drivers, deal with gas prices, coaches push back. There’s not one way [other jurisdictions] have done it. It has to be a creative solution.”
Montgomery County Public Schools earlier this year said it had no plans to change start times.
Mader’s chapter of the initiative only launched about three weeks ago, but she hopes to continue recruiting volunteers, sparking discussion between students, parents and officials, and work to spread the initiative’s message.
Will the county’s position change with this new local petition? Let us know what you think in comments.