OPINION: Fauquier Needs a Later School Start Time


David Achter

The start time of 7:30 is too early.

At 7:30 each morning, the bell rings, and students are officially required to be in their classrooms. For most, however, the journey to school begins much earlier. FHS pulls students from a massive portion of Fauquier County, and transportation to and from school can be a time-consuming endeavor. According to Christopher Ryman, Assistant Director of Transportation for FCPS1, “The earliest scheduled pickup time for an FHS student is 6:01 am.” Including time to eat breakfast and get dressed, some students could be waking up at 5:00 a.m. or earlier.

That’s not a healthy schedule, especially for teens. According to the American Academy of Sleep, “During adolescence, internal circadian rhythms and biological sleep drive change to result in later sleep and wake times.” This means that teenagers are predisposed to fall asleep and wake up at later times compared with the general adult population. An early school start time interfering with this biological clock can have consequences. A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found “…the evidence strongly implicates that earlier school start times (i.e. before 8:30 am) as a key modifiable contributor to insufficient sleep, as well as circadian rhythm disruption, in this population.”

Tired students are merely the tip of the iceberg for all the problems this can cause. Another study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found an increase in average GPA, college admissions, and attendance accompanied a delayed start time, while disciplinary rates decreased. Another study found that “Average crash rates for teen drivers in the study county in the 2 years after the change in school start time dropped 16.5%, compared with the 2 years prior to the change, whereas teen crashes for the rest of the state increased 7.8% over the same period.”

To say that it is reckless for FCPS1 to continue to force students to wake up before the crack of dawn is an understatement, and many other jurisdictions are beginning to take notice. In 2019, California passed a bill requiring high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. According to advocacy group SchoolStartLater, 72 of Virginia’s 95 counties have a school start time at or after 8:00 a.m.

It is time for Fauquier to make the switch. Currently lagging behind medical science and neighboring counties is unacceptable. The evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of a later start time, and Fauquier’s refusal to adopt it does not show the commitment it promised to its students. It’s time to push back the clock.