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Letter: Late Start Affects Commuters

A small group of ideologues has been successful in convincing the FCPS School Board to significantly change start times of all schools, without taking steps to properly anticipate problems such as traffic impact and without directly polling parents, students, employees or community members. The citizens of Fairfax County need to contact the School Board and tell them that this may help a small group who need more morning sleep, but will hurt others including teens, parents, employees and younger children. Action is needed, as the School Board is voting on this issue in July. Those in favor of significantly altering start times offer evidence from the Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) to support their position, but the current start times of our schools in place for decades, provides practical evidence to counter their claims, and should there be a medical need, high school students can opt out of early morning classes and get instruction on-line.

Right now high school start times coincide with the lowest commuter traffic times on our roads. Opening high schools 30 minutes to an hour later would result in large increases of traffic at the heaviest commuter times on I-395, 495 and 66, Telegraph and Braddock Roads, the Fairfax County Parkway, Routes 1, 7, 28, 29 and 50, and secondary roads as well. With sports practices and activities pushed to later in the day, student and parent drivers would be greatly inconvenienced and commuting times would be extended. Our roads are travelled by not only Fairfax County residents, but those from Loudoun, Prince William, Montgomery counties and others farther out. There is also an increased safety issue with inexperienced 16 and 17-year old drivers on the road at heaviest traffic times. Custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers, some of the lowest paid employees, often live farther out, and later start times will increase their commute times, creating a burden.

Parents could be impacted by higher day care costs. Finally, high school students would not necessarily get an extra hour’s sleep, but only about 20 to 30 minutes, because of having to commute during higher-density traffic times. We need to take care of our children, but lengthier and more dangerous commutes, and later afternoon sports and activity practice times is not the way to do it, not to mention the burden on parents and Fairfax County commuters.

Before this change is finalized, the state and Fairfax County should be asked to do a comprehensive traffic study on the impact of this proposal on our main and secondary commuter roads. Second, all Fairfax County Public School employees need to be polled. Reportedly, the faculty at one high school was polled and 92 percent were against the proposal. A committee was formed to look into the impact, but was dominated by board members and others who advocate change, and was not neutral. Town hall meetings were recently conducted to sense the pulse of the community, but again advocates game-planned the system, and by having people sit in small round table groups, they were able to minimize the opposition of the community by preventing all attendees from hearing others who brought up very cogent reasons for not changing the current start times.

Call the School Board at 571-423-1075 or contact them by email at fairfaxcountyschoolboard@fcps.edu. Express opposition to all four options on the table. There is an on-line survey on the FCPS webpage about later openings but it lacks a “continue with the status quo” option. Only strong opposition from residents, commuters and households of Fairfax County will prevent the School Board from precipitously choosing one of these four options without further study including actual polling of all stakeholders so there can be careful weighing of all the facts by residents of Fairfax County.

The Montgomery County Public Schools School Superintendent Joshua Starr decided on June 10 to recommend staying with their current bell schedules after directly soliciting the opinions of all school employees, surveying parents and students, holding both large forum and 77 neighbor-to-neighbor meetings, and hearing from thousands of community members. They also conducted a transportation and cost analysis and came to the conclusion that there was not a clear consensus on the issue and a huge expense would be incurred at a time when vital funds should be spent elsewhere for the benefit of all students.

Linus E. Downes, Centreville