Movement to Change School Times Lands in Howard County

A local father says high school students are sleep deprived.

Can you remember a time when you were sleep deprived? Maybe you couldn’t figure out why your house key wouldn’t start the car, or you misspelled your boss’s name?

“Any adult can remember a time when we were sleep deprived,” Mark Donovan said. “ We know how it affected us. Why do we not think that it affects our kids the same way?”

In fact, said Donovan, a clinical therapist based in Columbia, it does. Donovan has joined a growing movement to push back the start times of high school in an attempt to fix the “chronic sleep deprivation” that many say is evident in teenagers.

He has started the Howard County chapter of StartSchoolLater, a national coalition “concerned that children and teenagers required to start the school [day] too early in the morning face unnecessary challenges.” 

The group is advocating for high schools to start, at the earliest, at 8 a.m. and has a petition circulating online.

Donovan has met with members of the Howard County Board of Education and the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) as they begin a study into “the opening time of schools and the impact that an early opening has on the health and well-being of school students.”  

HCPSS is in the earliest stages of a study to determine whether it will change start times; specifically, according to spokesperson Rebecca Amani-Dove, whether elementary schools should start first and high schools last.

The first part of the study is the cost feasibility and impact analysis, which will address the questions posed by those skeptical of changing school start times, including: child care, athletics programs, and, what Amani-Dove called one of the biggest issues: transportation. 

As for the cost analysis, she said, “If we find it’s too costly or not feasible, we won’t move on to the second phase.”

If changing start times is financially viable, however, HCPSS will go on to the second step, which will include surveys of stakeholders, including students, parents, teachers and local businesses.

The study, Amani-Dove said, will likely take about a year and any approved changes would not go into effect until, at the earliest, the 2014/2015 school year.

'Part of being an adult'

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing the National Sleep Foundation, says teenagers need 8.5 – 9.25 hours of sleep.

In Howard County, high schools begin at 7:25 a.m.; if a student needed one hour to get ready before school, that student would need to be in bed by 10 p.m.

Some people who are not in favor of changing start times say parents should be able to get their kids in bed by then. “They have to learn that’s what after high school is,” Verna Schlein wrote on Ellicott City Patch’s Facebook page. “Getting up early and going to work … budgeting sleep, school homework and playtime is part of being an adult.

“We know they are adults because they keep telling us they are.”

Just being in bed by 10 p.m. isn’t enough, Donovan said. 

“You can send your teen to bed at 10, but they won’t sleep,” he said, citing research that concludes teenagers are on different sleep cycles.

According to Contemporary Pediatrics (citing the journal Neuroscience Letters), a change in circadian rhythms of teenagers – the biological clock that dictates when animals sleep and wake – means teenagers fall asleep later than their younger siblings or parents.

Teenagers, according to the article, have a biologically-rooted “‘Night owl’ tendency to stay up late.”

'Where there's a will, there's a way'

Another argument against pushing back the start times for high school deals with child-care.

“Many high schoolers watch their younger siblings,” Jane Nicholson Holcomb wrote. If the teenagers got out of school later, “Parents would then have the cost of daycare, which they may not be able to afford.”

Others express concern that extra curricular activities would suffer. “What would happen to high school sports and teens that have jobs?” Lisa Barnard Brown wrote. “Early start is fine in my house!”

Of course, money is always a concern. Pushing back the high school start times could mean more buses are necessary as high schoolers could now be on the road the same time as middle school and even elementary school students. 

To this, says Maribel Ibrahim, a Patch blogger and the Anne Arundel County-based founder of the national StartSchoolLater organization, there is no single answer, but, she said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. The community can adjust.”

People in communities across the country have made these changes, she said, noting a page on the SchoolStartLater website with examples of different approaches to pushing back school times - some at-cost, some for free.

'Everything's not OK'

In many cases, Ibrahim said, students don’t even know they’re sleep deprived and giving them a little more productive sleep can lead to a big difference. “Students will actually be more alert and awake,” she said, “They’ll spend less time working on their homework. They’re more efficient -- not forgetting, not drowsy, not going home and taking a nap.” 

Although they will get out of school later, she said, they may be done with the day’s work earlier. 

“What bothers me most as a father,” said Donovan, who has a 6th and 8th grader at home, “Is that the majority of kids get out at 2:10. They are raising themselves until both parents get home.” 

It would be nice to think they’re going home to do their homework, he said, but that’s not the case with all teens. “They’re smoking pot, having sex … doing things they shouldn’t be doing.” 

“Were limping along saying everything’s OK,” Ibrahim said, “But everything’s not OK.”


- School Start Times Under Review for Howard County Schools

- How Early is Too Early to Head to Class?

- POLL: Should Howard County Schools Start Later?

This article has been updated to include more recent guidelines from the CDC. 

Brook Hubbard February 19, 2013 at 03:39 AM
The problem is that yours is an anecdote, a single example. That does not mean that your results are indicative of the average family. These studies (which are not necessarily "government funded", as if that is a bad thing) take multiple samples from a varied population to determine what the norm is; it is that norm that forms the basis for these research conclusions. We can spend all day throwing out "experiences", but said experiences are subject to personal bias and perception. Only through objective examination of a wide variety of examples can we begin to create an accurate picture of the truth. We may not like what is found, but that doesn't matter... it is scientific fact in the end.
Kim Dixon February 19, 2013 at 12:09 PM
Again experience based results are just that results. The scientific fact you speak of has no results, what im saying is let there be a guinea pig town since some Of you like studies and give it a two year go with latter start time. I bet the findings would be the same kids would be tired because they will stay up latter because they can.
Brook Hubbard February 19, 2013 at 02:09 PM
A singular experience is not indicative of a whole; it is logical fallacy and the opposite of scientific thinking to propose it is. If we were to base everything on a singular experience, then a child might be afraid of dinosaurs because it made them cry once and not afraid of stoves because it happened to be off the first time they touched it. This was the fallacy of Freud, who created broad categories of mental disorders out of singular case studies. Did you read the studies presented? These are not just a collection of data. These are longitudinal studies of a significant sample population, measuring everything from perception to ability and achievement to autonomous functions. You already have a "guinea pig town" in the form of consistent records of children over the course of their lives. You continue to say our scientific fact has no results, but the results are clearly there in these studies, a major body of work that has existed since at least the 90's. It is your choice to ignore them because you don't agree with them. You are certainly entitled to form an opinion opposed to these findings, but that does not invalidate the findings and the data recorded. Until you can provide some research of your own that counters decades of our own, your statement is unsupported opinion with no validity.
Mark Donovan February 19, 2013 at 11:11 PM
So far, our Howard County Start School Later petition has gotten 820 signers in just a week. Join us at: http://tinyurl.com/sslhoco
Terri McCulley Hicks February 20, 2013 at 05:15 AM
Brook likes to use the word "ANECDOTES" alot while he attacks people.
Brook Hubbard February 20, 2013 at 01:37 PM
And you like to claim that disproving an anecdote because there is no supporting evidence is an "attack". Are you that insecure about your stance that any time someone criticizes it you get upset?
Elle February 20, 2013 at 02:11 PM
@Polly. Didn't anyone ever teach you manners? sticks and stones Polly. lol
Polly February 20, 2013 at 02:29 PM
@Elle Nope not rude at all, I stated my opinion based on personal experience as very involved parent and former high shooler and scientific facts in the face of your obsurdity. Me thinks you are really just a troll looking to incite a riot. Come on, I've taken on far more intelligent in my lifetime and lived to tell about it.
Polly February 20, 2013 at 02:33 PM
@ Mark I just signed the petition. This is long overdue.
Elle February 20, 2013 at 02:34 PM
@polly.....you proved my point. done with you and won't respond to your pettiness anymore. lol
Elle February 20, 2013 at 02:38 PM
I will sign it because I actually am for a later start time. Not because I think high school kids need more sleep but because I remember not liking that my kids had to go to the bus stop in the dark during the winter months. I also think elementary school kids that don't get home until 4:15 need an earlier start. That's a long day for them and they get so much homework these days. It makes for a long evening of trying to get tired elementary school kids to get homework done.
ECLibertarian February 20, 2013 at 03:07 PM
I must've been the odd ball - I always liked getting up early. Slept religiously every night 9 PM - 6 AM...I liked being the first one on the parking lot so I could get my favorite parking space!
Polly February 20, 2013 at 03:20 PM
@Elle First, the fact that you signed the petition for later start times only proves that will all your moaning and groaning, bitching and complaining shows what a true hypocrite you are. You insulted most parents for allegedly not being involved, and high schooler's who either run the streets all night or are playing video games and other computer stuff. You proved Brook and I corrected. So therefore, you are yet another meaningless, useless troll, now toddle along and let us big kids fight this battle.
NoPower February 20, 2013 at 04:14 PM
@Polly, wow! I hope your children are not as rude and disrespecful as you seem to be. Good for you for signing the petition if that makes you oh so proud!
Kim Dixon February 20, 2013 at 04:44 PM
You all are right and I respect your opinions however I do not agree with them. But I will vote against anything that will only serve to increase my already excessive taxes.
Elle February 20, 2013 at 05:26 PM
@Polly......please learn to read. Where did I insult parents? And get out of the gutter. Why do you feel the need to resort to name calling on a message board? Oh and btw, its true.....high school kids DO stay up too late socializing on the computer, whether its a game or just a chat room. If they would open a book and just read in bed, they would get drowsy and fall asleep faster. Now try to be nicer and leave the potty mouth out of this .
Brook Hubbard February 20, 2013 at 05:34 PM
How will changing school start times lead to more taxes?
Elle February 20, 2013 at 05:35 PM
You're right and I take it back. I haven't signed it yet and I won't. I firmly believe that kids get babied way too much these days. You think a later start time will help? The studies may show they need more sleep but they won't get it, unless you start school at 4pm for them. They still won't go to bed early enough because now they'll have more time to play computer games and sit in chat rooms and hang out with friends.
Dr. Dwyer February 20, 2013 at 06:00 PM
@Elle. The idea is that they still go to bed on time assuming their parents are functional.
Brook Hubbard February 20, 2013 at 06:45 PM
"The studies may show they need more sleep but they won't get it, unless you start school at 4pm for them." Hyperbole. There is no study that says anything of the sort.
woodbine5 February 21, 2013 at 02:08 AM
Kim, thanks for voicing this side. Mr. Hubbard you spew your research like a mid western bible thumper without what appears to be any consideration for unintended consequences. Howard County is FAMOUS for new innovative "ideas" which simply mask higher taxes. Has anyone heard about the new tax being imposed on Howard County Residents with regards to more "save the bay" legislation? Didn't think so. Well Mr. Ulman supported this tax out of Annapolis. Each county could choose to support it or not through their general funds or higher taxes. Mr. Ulman comment was "our residents can afford it-we will pass it on". Average increase: $500 dollars. Mr. Hubbard and others, you will have 100% of MY support for later start times, if in your volumes of research and acrimonious assaults on those that disagree with you, you include irrefutable research to show that taxes will NOT be affected. And please don't give us anecdotal research, include hard research on every county that increased start times around the county, that did not have any impact in any way, hidden tax or not, on any taxes in the corresponding county.
Brook Hubbard February 21, 2013 at 02:38 AM
I don't think any research I provide will satisfy you, seeing as you have set the goal post rather high. I could provide you with studies of financial effects on a few reported districts/schools, but you have said that wouldn't be enough. Seeing as you want precise financial data from ~every~ school system, that's a rather tall order from someone in a public forum. As I am only a supporter of this movement, not someone who is directly working on it, perhaps one of them can fulfill your demands? Of course, I could ask you the same: Can you provide me with a single school system that has enacted the program that has accrued more costs?
Jack February 21, 2013 at 05:30 AM
Discipline? Do any of you realize how few of us in this country actually serve? It is not discipline and those of us who serve do so generation after generation. Do not confuse military service with discipline and do not confuse the issues here. What is disturbing is how far behind our apprentice superintendent and her hired friend, Amani-Dove are in the understanding of the research which is where the cost comes from as they strugle to comprehend it. These discussions on patch and all the information being presented is exactly what the hcpss needs to make intelligent decisions for our children. The post about the "total package" being reassessed is the most accurate I have heard. I will sign and promote your petition from Howard county, Mount Airy and urge all of you who believe this school system is so good and we should not tamper with it to educate yourselves as to just where we really are.
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. February 21, 2013 at 11:51 AM
The idea that the only way to return to later, healthier school hours is to reroute or add buses at exorbitant costs is a myth. Communities that have put student health and well-being first have found a variety of creative solutions, sometimes even saving money in the process. Start School Later addresses this, and many other myths and misinformation that cloud this issue, on its website: http://www.startschoollater.net/myths-and-misconceptions.html#answer1
Maribel Ibrahim February 27, 2013 at 08:19 PM
The issue of sleep deprivation is so critical that there is now legislation being introduced in the MD House of Delegates about it. Read up on HB 1462 and click the link below to tell your legislator to support HB 1462: www.blastroots.com/sslmd
NoPower February 28, 2013 at 11:26 AM
thanks for the heads p maribel. I'll make sure to call to tell them to stop babying this new generation.
Joanne Brazinski March 03, 2013 at 05:02 PM
Thank you, Brook, for trying to steer the conversation back to fact vs. opinion. It is so much easier for people to claim their experience is universally true, but decisions should be made on evidence. I agree, the evidence supports medical fact that teenagers are not just young adults; they have different physical needs because they are not done growing, even if they seem adult-sized. If a simple thing like a half-hour later start time would help them, we owe it to them to seriously consider it. A knee-jerk "we've always done it this way" does not help anyone.
Max March 04, 2013 at 06:58 AM
Here's an opinion from a modern 15 year old teenager: school is starting too early. I choose to go to bed around 10-11PM, but I won't fall asleep until 12-1, sometimes even 2. What am I doing? Laying in bed, trying to fall asleep, Not playing games or watching videos or texting friends on my laptop/smartphone. Going to bed early simply doesn't work. Because I need to leave for the bus at 6:30 for a school starting at 7:25 that takes 10 minutes to drive to, I wake up at 5:30. WIth that being too early, I oversleep 30mins. and cut breakfast. I get home around 2:30 after school. By 4:30, I'm passed out due to exhaustion. I'm not purposely trying to sleep. Without anyone or anything to wake me up, I wake up from my nap around 8PM to do my homework and eat dinner, then go back to bed and attempt to fall asleep, which, once again, doesn't occur until after several hours of laying in bed. I've made another observation. After a 6 hour shift on Saturday, I can fall asleep at 11PM and wake wake up at 8AM with ease. In the morning, I feel very refreshed, a feeling I never get on a school morning. "Afterschool sports!" - also has kids at school at 5AM for physical activity. They're up by 4:30 "Drugs/Sex!" - also occurs AT SCHOOL "Younger siblings!" teach them to watch themselves "Babied" - Because bullying/family issues/eating disorders is worse than ever "Work world" - College classes generally start around 10AM "I could do it" teen life has changed since you were 16
riverhill highschooler April 08, 2013 at 03:25 AM
as a highschooler of riverhill highschool in Howard county, I think the main problem is the cirriculum overload. I try to sleep earlier when I can, but there is just too much homework. it's all I do when I come home from school is homework and studying. several of my friends and me have had breakdowns from the amount of work they give us at school and at home. Changing the school time may work but the main problem is the homework they assign that make the students, who put schoolwork first, stay up extremely late. also, to the parents who have Teen in highschool, don't force us to sleep earlier because sometimes it's required for us to stay up all night to do schoolwork.
Terri McCulley Hicks April 08, 2013 at 06:14 PM
Well Played and Well thought out point, Riverhill High Schooler!!! lol I give you credit for posting this comment. But your Post to reduce homework is just proof Howard County really needs to step up thier game on English and Grammer. Don't know what grade you're in but Good Luck with the rest of your school years and/or college. :)


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