Establish Safe and Healthy School Hours in Anne Arundel County

Anne Arundel County Superintendent of Schools and Board of Education

The 13/15 minute slide implemented in September 2017 wasn’t a perfect solution to Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) status as the earliest starting school system in the state of Maryland. There may be no single, perfect Elementary, Middle, or High School start time for all 82,000 Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) students and their families, but all students deserve school hours that are safe and healthy.

In September 2016, when the Anne Arundel County Board of Education approved the shift of high school start times 13 minutes later, they acknowledged that the previous 7:17 a.m. start time was neither safe nor healthy for teens. Unfortunately, a 7:30 a.m. start time ensures neither the safety nor health of our high school students. Many high school students still walk to their bus stops more than an hour before winter sunrise, and the first bell rings an hour before the earliest time recommended by the medical experts to ensure teens get adequate sleep.

Meanwhile the 15 minute shift in start and dismissal times also challenges AACPS’s later starting elementary and middle school students, some of whom will now walk home from bus stops as darkness approaches, leaving little time to get needed outdoor exercises and play after school.

In short, Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ (AACPS) hours are not safe for any age group, and they are not healthy for high school students.

What are safe and healthy hours?

Safe Hours: Safe hours allow all children to travel to and from school and their bus stops when they can see and be seen. No child should travel to or from school in the dark.

Healthy Hours: Healthy hours allow children to get the hours of sleep their developing minds and bodies require.

Safe Hours

AACPS's school hours are not safe for any age group.  The latest regular elementary school drop off is around 5 p.m., and the latest regular middle school bus drop off is around 5:10 p.m., requiring some younger children to walk home in the dark. The first regular high school bus pick up is at 6:13 a.m. and is always earlier than civil dawn. During the winter, many high school morning bus stops occur before civil dawn.

Again, none of these bus stop times are safe.

Civil dawn and civil dusk are those periods of twilight immediately preceding sunrise and following sunset, when children can see and be seen without artificial illumination. Using civil dawn and civil dusk is a minimum measure of when it is safe for children to be at the bus stops.  

     · In early November, the latest Civil Dawn starts at 7:09 a.m. (30 minutes before sunrise).  AACPS instructs children to arrive at their stops 10 minutes before pickup.  The first regular bus pickup should therefore be no earlier than 7:40 a.m., 30 minutes after the start of civil dawn in November. This would give children 20 minutes to walk to their stops during civil dawn, arriving at their bus stops 10 minutes before pickup, as instructed by AACPS.

    · The latest regular bus drop off should be no later than 4:45 p.m., coinciding with sunset and allowing an additional 30 minutes for children to walk home during civil dusk in December.  

Healthy Hours

AACPS's bell times do not permit teenagers to get the hours of sleep their developing minds and bodies require. Biologically, teens fall asleep later and thus want to sleep later in the morning.  Yet, teens go to school first. Many younger students, who have been awake for several hours and possibly at childcare for much of that time, must wait until well after 9 a.m. to start school.  Late releases limit the amount of time for necessary outdoor exercise and play, before darkness and family obligations.

Neither arrangement is age-appropriate. Starting elementary school before middle and high school would be more developmentally appropriate for all age groups than the existing arrangements. Though it may be unimaginable for current elementary parents that their early risers will no longer be that way come middle school, the shift in sleep patterns is well-documented. Current middle and high school students and families are quite familiar with this biological delay in sleep patterns.

This shift forms the basis for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Medical Association (AMA), U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), and other public health groups all recommending that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.  AACPS’ high school start time of 7:30 a.m. is a full hour earlier than the earliest time recommended by the medical experts.   Seven of AACPS’s middle schools already start later than this recommended time. Only 21.4% of high school students, down from 59.3% of middle school students sleep 8 hours or more on school nights (2014 Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey).

School-sponsored activities routinely end late in the evening, further contributing to adolescents unable to obtain the minimum sleep they require.  Much like Maryland’s child labor laws dictating a minimum of time between teenage work and school, setting a minimum of 11 hours between the end of student activities (sports, plays, clubs, etc.) would ensure greater opportunities for student sleep.  

To: Anne Arundel County Superintendent of Schools and Board of Education
From: [Your Name]

To ensuring the safety and health of our children, we, the undersigned, petition you to take the following actions:

1) Pass a resolution now that resolves to establish safe and healthy school hours for all children in grades kindergarten through twelfth grade, no later than the start of the school year two years from resolution’s passing. Ideally, the resolution would be passed in Fall of 2017and enacted by the 2019-2020 school year.
• Safe hours are defined as no regular bus pickup before 7:40 a.m. and no regular bus drop off after 4:45 p.m., based on civil dawn and civil dusk.
• Healthy hours are defined as no high school or middle school will start earlier than 8:30 a.m. Student activities end a minimum of 11 hours before the start of school the following day.

2) Require AACPS to seek outside consulting service for optimization of bus routes, in addition to using the routing software already acquired, to develop multiple bell time scenarios at various price points that meet the parameters of safe and healthy school hours defined in Paragraph (1) above.

3) In the next possible Fiscal Year Budget cycle, the Board of Education must request the appropriate funding to adopt one of the bell time scenarios. Advocate before the County Executive and County Council to approve such funding request. Ideally this would be the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

If this effort is delayed later than FY2019, then the current supporters on the County Council, who passed a unanimous resolution urging healthy and safe school hours in 2015, will be term-limited and no longer on the County Council. Future support by the County Council and County Executive is unknown.

4) Starting in the 2018/2019 school year, include sleep education for all students in the curriculum and provide educational outreach to families, teachers, and other stakeholders on the importance of good sleep hygiene, the health effects of sleep deprivation, appropriate hours of sleep for each stage of development and what can be done in addition to healthy school hours, to meet health guidelines for adequate sleep. The Anne Arundel County Department of Health should be a part of this community education effort.

5) Provide adequate notification to parents, child care providers, and the community at large regarding anticipated changes to school hour parameters for each age group. Premature notification of school specific times is discouraged, until known community concerns regarding sports, before/after-school activities, childcare, and other logistical concerns, are resolved to the satisfaction of the Board of Education.