Some Students Allowed to Opt Out of Class to Get More Sleep

Hundreds of Fairfax County high school seniors have dropped their first classes of the day so they can stay in bed a bit longer this school year, part of a decades-long effort pushing for later school start times.
September 30, 2013
 

Hundreds of Fairfax County high school seniors have dropped their first classes of the day so they can stay in bed a bit longer this school year, part of a decades-long effort pushing for later school start times.

About 650 students — 5 percent of the Class of 2014 — are participating this fall, with numbers steadily growing. Nearly 19 percent of the seniors at Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, for example, are coming to school late after they dropped early morning courses.

To start school late, students must be on track to graduate and get permission from their principal and parents. The seniors can drop as many as two first-period classes so long as they do not need the credits to graduate. And they need to find their own way to school without relying on buses.

Some school administrators, parents and students question whether the new program is fair to the 11,000 other teens who must still stumble to bus stops in the pre-dawn darkness. These include students who do not own a car or can’t rely on parents who have day jobs.

The first classes of the day begin at 7:20 a.m. in Fairfax, among the earliest in the Washington region. Neighboring jurisdictions have later start times, including Loudoun County, which begins classes at 9 a.m.

Fairfax’s “opt-out” program — unique in the Washington area — is a first step toward giving county teenagers additional rest. Parents and advocates for later start times have been arguing for years that early school starts are detrimental to teen health and that even an extra hour or two of sleep could make a real difference. Critics have said that changing the schools’ schedules would be expensive and a logistical nightmare, requiring more buses and more time spent battling traffic on the country’s most congested roads.

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