The Howard County Board of Education voted last night to lengthen the school day by 15 minutes for middle and high school students in the fall, a move necessary to meet state instruction requirements.
An analysis by The Sun in December showed Howard County high schools routinely fall short of the 1,170 instructional hours required. This year, the system missed the mark by 42 hours, and an early calendar proposal for next school year was short by 36 hours.
The extra 15 minutes - five added to the start of each day and 10 at the end - will lengthen the day from 6 1/2 hours to 6 3/4 hours and bring high schools into compliance with state law, at a cost of $143,000.
The time was added to the middle schools, which already meet hourly requirements, as a bonus.
"Obviously, any addition that provides more time for us to be with kids and teach kids is valuable," said Bonnie Branch Middle School Principal Kathryn McKinley, who chaired a committee on middle school scheduling.
The length of the elementary school day will remain the same, though start times will have to be moved back five to 10 minutes to accommodate busing, which may be problematic. As many as 17 buses could be late for their final elementary runs because of the time changes at other levels, officials said.
"The transportation department is working to solve most if not all of these [problems]," said Maureen Mirabito, a school system employee who presented the recommendation to the board.
Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, said the change would stand for a year, while a study is conducted to determine the feasibility of swapping start times between middle and high schools, some of which will now have to begin their days at 7:25 a.m.
The move puts Howard in the top five earliest-starting districts for high school students, who many say need more sleep to function well. Montgomery County has schools beginning at 7:25 a.m. Carroll and Calvert counties start as early as 7:20 a.m. Anne Arundel has at least one school starting its day at 7:17 a.m.