School Start Times Under Review for Howard County Schools

What is the relationship between start times and student well-being?


Teenagers need about nine hours of sleep per night, according to the Mayo Clinic. With Howard County high schools starting at 7:25 a.m., how likely is it that students are arriving to school well rested, healthy and prepared for the day ahead?

In a statement released this week, the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) announced it will be taking a “comprehensive look at the opening time of schools and the impact that an early opening has on the health and well-being of high school students." 

It’s a topic that has been on the agendas of school boards from California to Wisconsin and throughout Maryland.

In Howard County, Superintendent Renee Foose said the topic emerged as a concern during forums she held last fall. 

For Howard County students, high school begins at 7:25 a.m. Middle school start times range from 7:40 a.m. to 8:25 a.m. and elementary school start times range from 8:15 a.m. to 9:25 a.m.

“Students and parents alike inquired about the continued rationale for starting high schools earliest and elementary schools later,” Foose said in the statement. “From a practical stand point, I heard that the high school start time is contributing to sleepy adolescents and the elementary start times often cause daycare issues for parents.” 

Foose said the study will also look at the impact of any potential schedule changes on collective bargaining agreements, after school activities, transportation, and the HCPSS operating budget.   

School Board Member Janet Siddiqui advocated for a study looking at the relationship between school start times, sleep habits and student achievement. “Students must come to school well-rested if they are going to be ready for learning,” she said in the statement. 

The study will be conducted by HCPSS staff, according to a spokesperson.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports “sleep-related education, research and advocacy,” according to its mission statement, students are “unable to maximize the learning opportunities afforded to them by the education system, since sleep deprivation impairs their ability to be alert, pay attention solve problems, cope with stress and retain information.”

Patch readers last year had their say on the matter – some suggesting that a later start time would interfere with sports schedules, others or that staggering schedules might mean some schools let out close to rush hour. 

What do you think? Should high schools start later in the day to accommodate teenagers’ natural sleep cycles? Tell us in the comments.


- How Early is Too Early to Head to Class?

- POLL: Should Howard County Schools Start Later? 

Mac January 31, 2013 at 08:37 PM
I'm a high school student and I also run track. In the winter, even at the time we get out we still run until about sun set. Any later and I'll have to run in the dark. I don't see how it will help me get more sleep either since I already do homework until it is done and go to bed. This just means everything will be later and I will go to bed later. I don't care about school being early, and I don't think it affects my learning.
Polly February 01, 2013 at 11:56 AM
@ Brook - you are so right!!! I remember when my son started high school and it was more than difficult to wake him in the morning as he didn't get enough sleep. We used to talk about it and hard as he tried it was difficult for him to even fall asleep before 11PM most nights. Not to mention I remember when I was in high school and had the exact same problem. I would try to catch up by sleeping in on the weekends, but that was a no no. And now as an adult I've suffered severe sleep deprivation due to pain and can even begin to tell you the effects of that. My short term memory was getting worse, I was never fully awake and was just a zombie getting through each day. Not to mention that it's had an adverse effect on my general health and well being. We all need restorative sleep, some more, some less.
Brook Hubbard February 01, 2013 at 07:57 PM
"I don't care about school being early, and I don't think it affects my learning." Except research says differently regardless of what you think. What if they moved your track meetings to an indoor facility? Or took up one of your periods with outdoor track meets? Or moved them to the morning, seeing as you don't mind being up early? There are a variety of solutions, but people don't want to look at them because they're costly or inconvenient. In the meantime, we are affecting the health and education of future generations while we take the easy route.
Maribel Ibrahim February 11, 2013 at 04:23 AM
I am thrilled to see this conversation popping up here and around the country. I co-founded Start School Later last year because early school starts were a problem in Anne Arundel County and across the nation. When people really start to understand what we are asking of our students, to travel in the pre-dawn darkness at a time that conflicts with their sleep needs, it becomes too clear that a change must happen. Howard County now has a local chapter of Start School Later. Visit us online here: http://www.startschoollater.net/md---howard-county.html
Mark Donovan February 13, 2013 at 04:22 AM
Sign our petition to ask the Howard County School Board to Start School Later. Go to http://tinyurl.com/sslhoco Our current school start times have caused our kids to be chronically sleep deprived. Studies have shown that when teens get the required 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep: • School attendance goes up, • Tardiness decreases, • They sleep less in class, • They get in fewer traffic accidents, • They visit nurses and counselors less often, and, • They report less depression and irritability. Starting school before 8:00 AM, without a doubt, undermines optimal academic achievement.


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