Annapolis High School student Dajuan Gay left an after-school job early Wednesday so he could petition the Anne Arundel County Board of Education for later school start time. The junior than left the board meeting to resume his regimented daily schedule — which he said usually ends with bedtime at 1 a.m.
"I'm getting around four hours of sleep every night … and that's with work, homework, school track and other extracurricular activities," said Gay, whose comments to the school board culminated two hours of public testimony from students, administrators, parents and advocates, all pressing for later high school start times in Anne Arundel County.
The testimony follows what residents say is a decades-long effort to alter the morning schedule in the Anne Arundel school system, where the 7:17 a.m. start time for high schools is earliest in the state.
Advocates of later start times in schools echoed sentiments heard nationally — namely, that a lack of sleep among teens can impair students' focus and concentration, and can lead to chronic problems, including depression.
"It's time to reverse this mistake before we subject another generation to it," said Terra Snider, co-founder of the Annapolis-based nonprofit Start School Later and the mother of three county public school graduates.
"The nightmare of 6 a.m. school buses and chronic sleep deprivation is over for my family," Snider said, "but I'm still here, because I see safe and healthy school hours as a fundamental matter of public health that affects the entire community."
Some residents urged the school board to adopt measures for the coming school year such as beginning the school day no earlier than 8 a.m. and requiring students to ride buses no earlier than 7 a.m.
The former would make Anne Arundel County a rarity among the state's school districts. According to a February study on school times conducted by the Anne Arundel school system's transportation division, only Garrett, St. Mary's and Washington counties have high school start times of 8 a.m. or later.
The transportation division's study suggested three alternatives to the current school-hours format, including pushing back all high school schedules to start at 9:45 a.m. and end at 4:33 p.m. The recommendations probed such factors as financial costs and effects on student activities and personal family time.
In March, the school system's Citizen Advisory Committee Executive Committee, a group of residents appointed by the school board to advise the group, gauged public sentiment regarding school start times. On Wednesday night, the committee formally requested that the school system create a task force to devise a plan to alter high school start times.
School board President Teresa Milio Birge said the school board is focused on naming a permanent superintendent to replace Kevin Maxwell, who left this summer to take a similar position in Prince George's County.
"That has taken most of our time right now," Birge said. Asked when she believed the board would take up the school start time issue again, she said, "A board member has not proposed to the board doing it. It has not come up as an agenda item."
Groups including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics say sleep loss in adolescents is among the most important public health issues, said Daniel Lewin, associate director of pediatric sleep medicine program at the Washington-based Children's National Medical Center.
"Chronic sleep loss in teens is now at an all-time high, with many adolescents sleeping less than seven hours a night," Lewin said. "And sufficient sleep is linked not only to poor academics, but increased risk to depression, suicidal thoughts, alcohol and substance abuse and accidental injury."
Anne Arundel County schools' Chief Operating Officer Alex Szachnowicz said that for the school system's bus routes to run "efficiently as possible," buses run up to four routes each day. Most, he said, drop off high school students first, then middle school and elementary school students. Some buses run two elementary school routes, he said.
To alter the current schedule would mean additional buses and drivers, said Szachnowicz, who added that county officials have told the school system it will likely not receive additional funding above state mandated requirements.
"Given the clear message that we continually receive from our funding appropriators, there is little to no chance that we will see additional funding for such an endeavor," Szachnowicz said.
Also at Wednesday night's meeting, school officials said the board's ad hoc superintendent search committee will conduct public forums seeking input on the search from Dec. 10-12. Details, and a questionnaire requesting public input will be posted Monday on the school system's website, aacps.org, officials said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun