Letter To The Editor: An Open Letter To The Board Of Ed

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Dear Anne Arundel Board of Education members:

I testified at the November 20 board meeting to request action to change school start times in Anne Arundel County. I am the mother of a second-grader at Folger McKinsey Elementary School and a soon-to-be kindergartner.

The mission of Anne Arundel County Public Schools is to educate all of our students to be well prepared to empower them to create a better quality of life for themselves, their communities and the next generation. Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ hours are not supportive of an environment that educates, empowers and improves quality of life. The hours are not safe for any age group, and they are not healthy for high school students.

Safe hours are based on dawn and dusk times when children can see and be seen without artificial illumination. Healthy hours are after 8:30am for middle and high school students due to shifts in biological rhythms that they cannot control. Study after study after study has backed this up. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Medical Association (AMA), U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) all recommend that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30.

The high school start time of 7:30am is a full hour earlier than the earliest time recommended by the medical experts. And on the opposite side of this, our elementary school children are starting school too late. My child starts instruction at 9:40. By this point, she has been wide awake since 7:15 like most of her peers. The best hours of her day that are ripe for instruction are wasted in before-school child care. By the end of the day, my daughter is exhausted and transitioned at least three times between before care, school, and after care. An earlier start time for elementary school would eliminate the need for before care and the emotional and financial burden on families of this disruptive schedule.

The consequences of not getting enough sleep are alarming. Higher risk for being overweight; depression; engaging in risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking, using drugs, drowsy driving and related care accidents; and poor school performance. Simply put, chronic sleep deprivation puts our children's mental and physical health at risk and limits their potential to learn and grow. Consider the suicide rate in Anne Arundel County. We have a serious problem that requires serious action to foster an educational environment that supports improved mental health for our children. It is incumbent upon us as a community to put a stop to the status quo.

Multiple states and counties around the country have changed school times. Children are healthier, safer, perform better on tests and have improved attendance and graduation rates simply by changing the start time. Yes, there will be administrative and operational challenges to figure this out. We may need to invest in more buses. We may need to invest in more lights for sports fields. But these are solvable issues. And what's at stake, the health of our children, pales in comparison to the administrative and financial barriers required to solve this problem.

It is time to change school start times that prioritize education, empowerment and the improvement in the quality of life for all of our children. I plan on attending the January 22 Board of Education meeting to testify again and to request action. Thank you for your consideration of this critical issue.

Sincerely,

Katie Eckert

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