Montgomery students petition for a later school bell

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Local,Leah Fabel

Montgomery County students, after a long summer of sleeping till noon, are begging the school board to start classes one hour later.

"We are concerned by endemic sleep deprivation in the student population," says an online petition introduced Monday, created by "students, parents, teachers and administrators," but written by student Josh Rothman, according to its Web site.

It goes on to include facts from the National Sleep Foundation, including the average adolescent's required shuteye: 9.25 hours.

By late Monday afternoon, the petition had collected more than 300 signatures.

"I hate waking up at [five o'clock] in the morning to get ready for a bus that's comes an hour later," said one student comment.

"Pleaseeeeeeeeee!" said another.

Parents have chimed in with complaints about driving their students to the bus stop before dawn, and the need to respect young people's biological rhythms.

The county's high schools start classes just before 7:30 a.m.

A handful of the comments are less sympathetic.

One parent wrote: "What are you poor darlings going to do in the real world when you have to get up to go to a real job? Are you going to start a petition so you can go to work later?"

But while an hour to snooze is an easy sell to students, the school board is skeptical.

"Most high school students would like to sleep later, but when you're busing 90,000 kids per day, there are no easy answers," said board member Pat O'Neill.

O'Neill said two working groups looked into changing bell times in the late 1990s and determined the best way for the plan to work would be to use more buses. That was too expensive then and would be even more expensive now, O'Neill said.

Across the Potomac in Fairfax County, a plan to start school later was scaled back during the district's tight budget negotiations in the spring.

"We saved that money and used it to fund the rest of the system," said Fairfax spokesman Paul Regnier, adding that slight changes were made to elementary and middle school start times.

Melissa Ngaruri, a Montgomery parent and lawyer for juveniles, said schools should find the money anyway.

"Most of our kids get in trouble after school," she said. "Wouldn't it be lovely to know that not long after they get home, the parent is coming home, too?"

lfabel@washingtonexaminer.com

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