Fixing The School Bus Schedules— Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

What’s going on with improving high school start times for Anne Arundel County Public Schools?

My children are only in elementary school, but ever since the oldest started kindergarten I’ve been made aware that the reason the school bus doesn’t deliver children back to our neighborhood until 4:30 pm has to do with a bus schedule that uses the same drivers and buses for elementary, middle, and high schools. This is a full half-hour after school is dismissed and we only live 10 minutes’ drive away. Meanwhile our teen-age babysitter can’t sit for us past 9 pm on a school night because she has to wake up at 5:45 am to catch her bus to high school. I know I struggled to wake up at 7 am when I was in high school, and saw plenty of my classmates snoozing through first period. I can’t imagine how today’s teens get through a school day, not to mention take care of important life decisions, with an even less alert brain to start the day with. Is there anything parents can do to move the county toward a more workable schedule for all the students?

Dreading High School Again

Dear DHSA,

The wheels of progress on this issue have indeed been moving slowly. The latest news is that the AACPS Board of Education is working on a contract proposal for hiring a transportation software consultant to give recommendations for improving the bus schedule. Although a software package was bought several years ago, it was never fully activated. Meanwhile unreasonably long rides, half empty buses, and the extremes of school hours that have older students at bus stops before sunrise and younger students, at least for a few weeks of late fall and early winter, returning home after sunset.

Concerned parents such as yourself can keep informed by attending or viewing videos of school board meetings where proposed changes are decided. Here is the link to the last meeting at which the RFP was discussed (Agenda Item 4.04, starting at 1:28). One issue holding AACPS back from changing high school start times has been comparing the anticipated costs that may be incurred with changes to the bus routes. Without the assistance of software designed to do just that, various “quick fix” scenarios were considered. These included a simple switch of high school and elementary school hours as well as shifting all schedules to about 15 minutes later – which was agreed upon for implementation in the 2017-2018 school year. Other school districts across the country have had success with using bus scheduling software, sometimes finding significant savings for their transportation budget.

The next meeting of the AACPS Board of Education will be: Wednesday, March 20, 7 pm, at the Board of Education, 2644 Riva Road, Annapolis MD. The public is welcome. You will be in the good company of members of a volunteer organization, Start School Later Anne Arundel County. This local chapter of Start School Later and has been working for over two decades to bring awareness to all the issues caused by too early start times for AACPS high school students, as well as related issues to a bus schedule that seems to cater to, well, a bus schedule.

As a child development specialist, my biggest concern has been the sleep deprivation that results from waking students before their adolescent brains have had sufficient rest. The immune system, limbic system (emotional control), metabolism and weight control, cardiovascular health, substance abuse, depression, reaction time for safe driving, and even acne are all impacted by the quantity and quality of a teen’s sleep. Learning, which should be a key concern for a school system, is specifically affected when REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is interrupted before all of yesterday’s experiences have been processed and properly stored. Here’s my post from a few years ago with a review of Sleep Science research. Experts suggest that from around the time of puberty the need for sleep actually increases to an average 9 ¼ hours per night. The onset of drowsiness also shifts, from 8 pm for an elementary school student to three hours later for a high school student. The adolescent brain starts to shut down around 11 pm and isn’t fully ready to wake up until 8:30 am.

No matter the economic cost, many other school districts have accepted the science and have made sleep a priority for their high school students. Let’s work together to make this important change as soon as we can!

Stay informed. Get involved.

Dr. Debbie

 

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