A Howard County Public School System committee will work with the public in reviewing four scheduling models that would change the start and dismissal times for school days next year.
The plans, proposed by the Start and Dismissal Time Committee, would send elementary school students to school earlier in the day, while middle and high school students would have later starting times.
Committee member Frank Eastham, executive director for school improvement and administration, said an internal work group began the five-phase process in 2013 to review research on start and dismissal changes as well as possible impacts. The committee was later established in February 2014 under Superintendent Renee Foose.
Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed a new member to the state school board who said she supports his controversial mandate requiring schools to start after Labor Day. Rose Li, a Montgomery County Republican, replaces James Gates, a University of Maryland physicist, who resigned in protest of Hogan's order.
Phase three began in October 2015, Eastham said, when the committee shared various options with the Howard County Board of Education and then presented a revised proposal in April. Eastham said the committee took under consideration sleep schedules of children and teens, school day starting times in other Maryland jurisdictions and scheduling of before- and after-school events.
"In April, the board came to us and directed us to create models where no middle or high school started before 8:15 a.m.," Eastham said. "Currently, elementary schools have the latest start times and they would become our earliest start times. Middle and high schools are going to latest start times. Then, we're swapping between whether middle school or high school starts first."
According to the committee report, Howard elementary schools currently start their days at 8:15 and 9:25 a.m. However, the committee's models suggest starting elementary schools between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m., and ending the day between 2:15 and 3 p.m.
To coincide with elementary schools, middle and high schools suggested start times are between 8:30 and 9:15 a.m., dismissing between 3:15 and 4 p.m. Howard high schools current schedules are from 7:25 a.m. to 2:10 p.m., with middle schools currently starting between 7:40 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. and dismissing between 2:25 and 3:10 p.m.
All models include 15 minutes for bus delivery prior to the school start times. The four models also include Cedar Lane and Homewood beginning their days at 9:15 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m., a change from their current start times of 7:55 a.m. and 7:25 a.m., respectively.
David Ramsay, director of transportation, said the alternative times would increase the number of general and specialized buses – currently at 453 – to anywhere from 455 to 523 buses. The changes also include projected cost increases that incorporate general and specialized bus fleets, administration, routing software and validation routing and cost analysis reserve.
"Currently, our morning window is two hours, 7:25 to 9:25 a.m. and in the afternoon, 2:10 p.m. to 3:55 p.m.," Ramsay said. "If you have more time, either in the morning or the afternoon, to provide services, you can add more trips to the bus routes."
Approximate costs of changing the school hours will range from $930,000 to $5.3 million, the committee said.
Committee members told the board that later start times have shown positive results in a student's sleep schedule and alertness, while earlier times have shown no positive or detrimental impacts on a student's performance. While changes in start and dismissal times were discussed in the late-1990s and again prior to 2013, Eastham said, nothing moved forward due to lack of consideration in potential impacts.
"It changes the entire culture of the community," Eastham said. "Changing start and dismissal times for schools impact every citizen in the county; it's not just a school-based decision."
The committee is thoroughly reviewing impacts to before- and after-care, availability of secondary students to pick up younger siblings from school, rush hour traffic and delays in start times of after-school activities and athletics, he said, with recent feedback highlighting the latter.
"It really depends on what the community wants," Eastham said. "The initial feedback that we've received is the concern of elementary being the first to start and high schools being the latest start with athletics and activities [starting later]. This is one of those issues where not everybody has the same prospective."
The committee will begin garnering community input on the proposed changes with its first forum on Wednesday, Nov. 30 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Marriotts Ridge High School. Public forums will also be held on Dec. 7 and 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Howard High School and Reservoir High School, respectively.
Changes to the start and end times would take effect with the 2017-2018 school year. At the same time, the school board is also working on next year's school calendar under Gov. Larry Hogan's executive order requiring schools to start after Labor Day. That calendar is expected to be introduced at a board meeting on Dec. 15.
Additional meetings to discuss the change in school schedules include the Board of Education's report on Jan. 12 at 6 p.m.; a public hearing on Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.; and the board's action on Feb. 23 at 3 p.m.