By Emmett Gartner
High school students can feel safe hitting the snooze button next fall. The Anne Arundel County Board of Education approved a plan last Wednesday to shift school start times beginning with the 2022-2023 school year. Under the plan, high schools will start a full hour later at 8:30 a.m. and middle schools will start between 8:30 and 9:15 a.m. Elementary schools will begin between 8 and 9 a.m.
The decision follows recommendations from Prismatic Services, Inc., a logistics company that the county contracted in 2021 to develop new bus routes for altered school start and dismissal times, and a lengthy campaign from community members for the county to adopt later school start times.
“This Board, based on mountains of research, committed in June to change to healthier school start times,” Board President Melissa Ellis stated in a press release. “This has been years in the making and there is more work to be done between now and then, but the certainty is that change is coming.”
Implementing the plan will have little to no cost, according to the board, although the county acknowledged that they require re-negotiated bus contracts, shifts in school meal and athletics schedules, and changes to child-care operations to meet the logistical hurdles of adjusting start and dismissal times.
The county will also need as many as 32 more buses to “address existing overcrowding issues,” the board said.
The national nonprofit Start School Later has waited for Wednesday night’s decision since 2011, when the group was founded in Anne Arundel County.
Lisa VanBuskirk, head of the group’s Anne Arundel County and Maryland chapters, commended the county’s decision and saw it as a pivotal step in moving the rest of Maryland’s public schools towards what she calls healthier, safer, and more age appropriate school hours.
“Ultimately, this is about the students and making sure that they attend school at a time that aligns best with their learning opportunities,” VanBuskirk said.
VanBuskirk and Start School Later supercharged their advocacy in Anne Arundel County when the school board began transitioning to countywide elections for its members in 2018. Newly elected members were receptive to her proposed changes, VanBuskirk said, and the movement blossomed into Wednesday’s unanimous decision to alter arrival and dismissal times.
Excited as she is, VanBuskirk is still aware of the care required in ensuring a smooth rollout between now and next fall. “An important part of all this is not just solving all these logistical issues,” VanBuskirk said, “but communicating with parents about how their students will be impacted.”
One Anne Arundel County student that will miss out on these changes is Bunmi Omisore, the board’s student representative and a senior at Arundel High School. As jealous as she is, though, she says she is thankful for the board’s move and the impacts it will have on her fellow students.
“I’m going to be very excited,” Omisore said at Wednesday’s meeting, “to tell my constituents that they will no longer have to wake up before the sun.”