Later school start times in Anne Arundel County gained a long-sought victory Wednesday night when the school board called for a plan to push the starting bell for high schools back to at least 8:30 a.m.
The Board of Education voted 7-1 to have Superintendent George Arlotto develop a plan to move school start times for middle and high schoolers by April that better aligns with studies showing student health improves with later start times.
“The time is now,” board President Melissa Ellis said.
The plan would be implemented no later than the start of the second semester of the 2021-2022 school year.
The board set parameters for elementary school at no earlier than 8 a.m. and no later than 9 a.m. Middle schools would start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and no later than 9:15 a.m. Regular high school would start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., though enrichment programs would be available starting at 8 a.m.
Before the pandemic some high school students were starting their first period of the day at 7:30 a.m., an early starting time that critics argue deprives the students of enough sleep, harming their health.
Student board member Drake Smith said he has personally seen how sleep deprivation can affect a student’s achievement.
“I truly believe that education will not and should not look the same as it was on March 13 of last year,” he said. “So much has changed and forced us to really progress, and we should never look back.”
The lone vote against the change was from Corrine Frank, one of three members elected in November. She criticized the measure because it set a deadline to implement a plan the board won’t see until April.
”The motion directs the school board to implement start times without having seen how that will be accomplished, and I’m kind of stuck on that,” she said. “How can we vote on a plan without seeing the plan?”
Lisa VanBuskirk, a leader of Start School Later, has been advocated for years that county schools need to adjust start times. She said advocated don’t want students driving to school sleep-deprived in the dark.
VanBuskirk said she won’t stop until she actually sees buses rolling after dawn. She said Arlotto’s plan won’t be completed until after the board has sent in its budget request for the coming year, which means implementation could be delayed if the plan needs additional funding.
A transportation evaluation completed for the board found that new start times could be accomplished with the same number of bus runs, or less, because of inefficiencies that exist now, according to Prismatic Services Inc.
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The calendar was proposed by Ellis and board member Robert Silkworth as an alternative to the four plans previously recommended. It does away with the traditional full days of parent-teacher conferences and replaces them with five days of either two-hour early dismissals or two-hour late arrivals for students.
The calendar also calls for schools to be closed for students on May 3, 2022, for Eid al-Fitr. That day will be a professional development day for staff.