Superintendent Says MCPS Is Taking Another Look at School Start Times Following Complaints

Concern about lengthened elementary school day is prompting fresh review


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Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith

Aaron Kraut

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith says education officials are seeking to tackle complaints about elementary school schedules without buying more buses or undoing changes to high school start times.

“It certainly is an area of concern,” he said Thursday during a radio broadcast of the Kojo Nnamdi Show on local station WAMU.

Smith said MCPS staff haven’t arrived at any conclusions about scheduling and are simply conducting an analysis at the behest of the school board.

Bell times have long been a topic of intense debate among parents and educators and school officials have repeatedly studied the issue. About two years ago, after protracted discussion, the board decided to shift high school start times by 20 minutes to give teenagers a bit more shut-eye. Studies have shown that beginning classes later in the morning can improve students’ problem-solving skills and cut down on car crashes involving teenage drivers.

However, the board’s decision created a ripple effect throughout the busing system, resulting in a slightly lengthened elementary school day.

Some elementary school principals have objected to the changes and argue that the longer day has made for sleepy students and longer bus rides, The Washington Post reported.

“It’s apparent that there are some unintended outcomes for elementary school start times that people did not expect,” Smith said during the radio program.

Smith said officials could remedy the situation by buying more buses and hiring more drivers or by going back to the old high school start times. However, the school board wants to come up with other possible solutions, he said.

School board President Michael Durso said it is highly unlikely that elected leaders will reverse the high school schedule change enacted a couple years ago or that they will shell out money on new buses.

“I think it is remote that anything of a major adjustment is realistic right now,” he said.

However, board members would like to do something for elementary school students who are finishing late in the day, Durso said, adding that “there may be a few things that we could tinker with.”

The topic might come up at next week’s board meeting, Durso said, but he doesn’t anticipate an in-depth discussion before February.

During the radio program, Smith added that work is also under way to determine whether the shifted start times have improved high school student performance.

Smith, who took the helm at MCPS in July, also spoke Thursday about the importance of training educators in cultural sensitivity and implicit bias. He also discussed the need for expanding language immersion programs and to respond to callers’ questions about protecting student data as educators adopt new technologies in the classroom.   

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