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Delaying High School Start Times: Children's National Developing a "Blueprint for Change" for Fairfax County Public Schools

Washington, DC – In order to help students get the sleep they need to perform at their best and optimize their health, Children’s National Medical Center’s Division of Sleep Medicine has been contracted by the Fairfax County School Board in Virginia to develop a plan to delay high schools’ start time to 8 am or later. During the next eight months, the Children’s National Pediatric Sleep Medicine team, led by Judith Owens, MD, and Danny Lewin, PhD, will partner with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), students, parents, educators, administrators, and other community stakeholders to develop a “Blueprint for Change” to accomplish this task. 

Fairfax County is the 11th largest school district in the United States, serving more than 181,000 students in 196 elementary, middle, and high schools, and is the largest school district in the U.S. to consider delaying high school start times. The project will consist of a series of inter-related steps, including a needs assessment and a review of best practices found in other school districts that have delayed start times. Town hall and community meetings will be held in fall and early winter of 2013 to provide feedback as the team develops a set of “best fit” options for ultimate consideration for ratification by the School Board. An online portal will provide an interactive home including opportunities for community feedback and frequent updates during the research and planning process for the ‘Blueprint for Change’ report. Frequent updates on news and information will be posted on Facebook and via Twitter.

“The scientific evidence is irrefutable: chronic sleep loss and disruption in circadian rhythms associated with early high school start times are associated with negative consequences including poor academic performance, increased sport-related injuries, and potential long-term increases in cardiovascular and metabolic (i.e., type 2 diabetes) health risks. We know that delaying high school start times increases total sleep time and positively impacts academic achievement and school attendance. There are also documented mental and physical health benefits for students that include reductions in rates of depression and fewer drowsy driving crashes,” stated Judith Owens, MD, Director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National, and an internationally recognized authority on children and sleep. “In keeping with their long-standing commitment to student health and achievement, we applaud the foresight of the Fairfax County School Board in taking this important step.”  
A key component of the Children’s National team’s involvement will be to inform, actively engage, and gather input from everyone potentially impacted by this change, from students and families to teachers, coaches, after-school program directors, and community organizations, as part of the planning process. Danny Lewin, PhD, Associate Director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National, sleep researcher, and clinician, added, “In developing a set of best fit scenarios, including the potential impact on busing and transportation, an important goal is to minimize cost and disruption to the community.” 

Surveys conducted in Fairfax County Public Schools have found that high school students are not receiving the appropriate amount of sleep to function at their best. In 2011, a survey of 8th, 10th and 12th grade students in Fairfax County found that two-thirds of students reported sleeping seven hours or less on an average school night, two hours or more short of the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours needed per night. In addition, 73 percent of 10th graders and 84 percent of 12th graders in FCPS were routinely getting less than seven hours of sleep on school nights and 17 percent and 26 percent of 10th and 12th grade students reported less than five hours of sleep per night, respectively. 

“The Fairfax County School Board passed a resolution in April that indicated the Board’s goal to achieve high school start times after 8 am so that students are able to obtain a healthy and sufficient amount of sleep, as defined by sleep research and medical experts,” said School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon. “The Children’s National Medical Center’s Division of Sleep Medicine will hopefully provide us with some ideas for change so that we can move forward and make a decision that is in the best interests of all FCPS students.” Currently, almost all Fairfax County public high schools start at 7:20 am.

Children’s National has an elite Sleep Medicine program, including four board-certified sleep medicine specialists. Children’s Pediatric Sleep Medicine Program is the only comprehensive sleep center in the Washington, DC area exclusively designed for children and adolescents.

For more information, contact public relations at 202-476-4500.

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