Change for the future – VBCPS School Board agrees to change high school start time


(Graphic drawn by Lianna Arenas)

Ana Costanzo

By Ana Costanzo

While Princess Anne students may complain about school starting at 7:20 in the morning, freshman Maia Cirvello prefers such an early wake-up time compared to the change the VBCPS School Board has rendered for all students in a year and a half. Instead of waking up in the early hours of the morning, high school students may be seeing more light, as the School Board agreed to change high school start times to after 7:20 in the 2020 school year, probably between 8 and 8:30.

“I do not support the School Board changing high school start times because right now we can get more done in the afternoon,” said Cirvello, furthermore stating the early school start time allows her to have more time for homework and clubs as she is a member of tennis and Yearbook Club.

Not only does the early school start time allow for more afternoon activities, but it also allows for more sleep, according to Cirvello. On average, she gets around six to seven hours of sleep, but with the later school start time, this average may change or at least remain the same.

“The School Board changing the school time may affect my amount of sleep because I would be getting out of school later,” Cirvello said, then stating she would stay up later in the night for homework. She then addressed another personal predicament that may arise from such a change.

“If I knew [school] was starting later in the morning, then… I could stay up later in the night,” said Cirvello, which would alter her amount of sleep, as well.

Cirvello is not the only person who shares such disapproval with the School Board changing the high school start time to after 7:20.

A recent Page survey shows 76 percent of current freshmen and sophomore students disagreeing with the School Board’s decision.

“I do not have time to be spending more than half my day at school,” said freshman India Barry, then clarifying she has play practice and afternoon appointments she is likely to have conflicts with.

Barry also stated she gets five hours of sleep on average each school night, and this change of school time will not maximize her amount of sleep to reach the more healthy standard spectrum. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), teenagers need about eight-to-10 hours of sleep each night to function properly throughout the day. However, Cirvello and Barry are not reaching this average.

It is this research about the need for teens to extend the hours they sleep (not necessarily from NSF, but several research articles) that the School Board based its decision on. School Board At-Large member Beverly Anderson told The Page the School Board believes the new start time will be helpful  “beneficially and physically for adolescents.”

The document Anderson addresses titled “Resolution of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools School Board Concerning School Start Times,” displays data of a Spring of 2017 survey taken by stakeholders directed towards school start times. Seventy-eight percent of parents, 73 percent of staff, and 71 percent of students agreed that later start times are “beneficial to the health, safety, and well-being of adolescents,” according to the document. The document further states the survey results found only 36 percent of parents are currently satisfied with school start times.

These factors coupled with the research articles proved to the VBCPS School Board schools should change start times, especially high school start times. In fact, according to Anderson, several school systems across the nation are organizing (or already have) changed high school start times to a later time because of the research the VBCPS conducted.

Regarding how late school will start, Anderson could not give a definite as the School Board is still determining; however, she clarified the goal is for high schools to start “sometime after 8 and possibly around 8:30 a.m.”

She further clarified the decision-making process that was undertaken when deciding to change high school start times.

“We did not reach the decision lightly or quickly. The board was given information about the issue almost three years ago.” Indeed, in the Resolution of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools School Board Concerning School Start Times, it states in July of 2015, the VBCPS School Board reviewed start times based on medical evidence that “later start times are beneficial to the well-being of adolescents.”

The School Board considered other factors when determining this decision by conducting a transportation study “to see if it was even possible” to change the school start time and “how much it was going to cost” if more buses were needed, according to Anderson.

Furthermore, Anderson stated, “We also had to consider the cost of adding lights on several athletic fields. The cost of the lights held up our decision as well. We used some reversion funds to add lights to some of our fields and hope to continue the light installation at the remainder of our high schools during the next couple of years.”

Basing their decision on these factors and the survey conducted, the VBCPS School Board determined what “we think is best for the education of the students in Virginia Beach,” according to Anderson.

The Page recently conducted a survey directed towards freshmen and sophomores, both of which will be affected as the later start time will begin in 2020, to collect data on how many students are in favor, against, or undecided in regard with the School Board decision. However, unlike the School Board, The Page found an overwhelming amount of underclassmen students disagreeing with the change of school start times.

With a population of 850 freshman and sophomore students at PAHS, not all students’ opinions were gathered. However, when calculating the margin of error, it proves the data found is legitimate and accurate when determining underclassman’ opinions about the school board decision.

Unlike the School Board survey which determined parents, staff, and students are in favor of such a change, 76 percent of underclassmen students at PAHS voted against the later school start time.  

“I have multiple after-school activities and sports that are going to end very late and I am going to end up just getting the same amount of sleep,” one anonymous survey taker responded.

Other survey responders shared the same concern, one writing, “This will just have kids stay up later in the night, and will not solve any problems… It also makes it more difficult for teens to have jobs after school. Sports will also be later and in the dark.”

Though many students who disagree see this impacting their activities after school, other responders who were not in favor negotiated a compromise on paper. Respondents considered the idea of changing the high school start time to only 20-30 minutes later than the current start time which is more appropriate than an 8:30 start time, according to an anonymous survey taker.

With the later start time, there is another problem that may arise with the schedules of elementary and middle schools. Other survey responders addressed this predicament between later high school start times and the current elementary school start times, one writing, “… getting out [later in the day] would cause… conflict being that elementary schools are released at or around that time [high school students are released at the end of a school day].”

Anderson addressed this concern with the conflict between the later high school start time and the elementary school start time, stating, “The details and the exact times for both high school and elementary schools have not been worked out yet.” Therefore, it is still undetermined as to how the younger students of VBCPS will be affected.

Though 76 percent of students disagree with this later school start time due to factors as mentioned above, 19 percent voted in favor of the school-time change.

“I’ll be able to get more sleep, which will help me become more productive in school,” said an anonymous survey taker to his or her reasoning for agreeing with the change in school time.

Another survey responder wrote, “I do want the change because I get home late because of out-of-school sports and I stay up late to finish all my homework which results to me getting less sleep.”

When looking at the reasoning for why students agree with the change in time, the most notable trend is sleep. “If I get an extra hour of sleep,” replied another anonymous survey taker, “I will have much more energy for the school day. Plus, we are only ending an hour later.”

Anderson addressed sleep as the main component to changing the high school start time as it was considered among other factors as the cause of energy and productivity throughout the school day.

While other high school students favor the later start time due to the prospect of gaining more sleep, four percent of underclassmen either did not care or not know how to feel.

The main reason why students are questioning the decision and its relevance towards themselves is that of an unbalance between waking up later in the morning while also getting out of school relatively later. As one anonymous survey taker replied, “You’d have to consider the fact that some would get more sleep, but some would get home later, and it could be hard to fit in or schedule things already planned for earlier in the afternoon.” Others simply replied, “I don’t have an opinion.”

For most students not in favor of such a decision, most came to the conclusion it would disrupt their after-school activities, and with the majority of votes directed towards disagreeing with the School Board decision, it seems PAHS students would rather wake up earlier in the morning than leave school later in the day.

However, though The Page survey’s and Barry’s and Cirvello’s opinions show students disagreeing with the later school start time, sophomore Shreya Patel is in favor of such a change.

“Getting up before the sun even comes up is too much for people…” stated Patel, who went on to say she does not like waking up after the sun has risen. “My brain doesn’t wake up until 8. I’m in class, but I’m not really thinking.”

Even with after-school activities such as choir rehearsals on Mondays, Shreya does not see the time difference posing a threat to her after-school activities. Getting home after 9 o’clock on Mondays, Patel gets little time for her homework which creates a conflict with her sleep. On average, Patel gets four to five hours of sleep, an unhealthy amount of rest which has an effect on her lack of focus in the morning at school, according to the NSF which determined sleep is needed for productivity throughout the day. Because of her lack of sleep during the school week, Patel thinks it is a “good idea to push” the school start time “back a little bit” so she may have more sleep.

And while Patel addresses her lack of sleep and focus as a “me problem,” she is not the only student who feels the time change may benefit her health.

Sophomore Anna Seyrlehner also supports the time change relatively because of sleep. “I am not stressing over the time change,” stated Seyrlehner as she clarified she lives rather close to the school; therefore, she does not have to wake up in the early hours of the morning to catch the “early bus,” as she calls it.

However, she does acknowledge her parents’ schedule may be affected by such a change in school start time, but in 2020, she plans on driving to school, this later start time giving her more freedom in the morning.

With after-school activities, Seyrlehner, who is a member of the track team, would be running in the dark after a later school end time. To this foreseeable problem, Seyrlehner said, “There are pros and cons [to this change in school time], but that’s everything. You compromise and work around it.” She then stated some of the pros and cons, the latter being one may “sleep in too much and not set alarms,” while the pros are sleep and the functioning of oneself throughout the school day with more rest.

Though both Patel and Seyrlehner view sleep as being their main cause to not question the School Board decision, sophomore Kailey Monroe is against the school board changing the school start time.

“The school system is trying to solve the problem of sleep deprivation among teens — which is a good thing –” said Monroe of the school board decision, “but pushing back time later isn’t going to do that, especially for high schoolers who have after-school jobs, sports, and and after-school activities and lots of homework.”

Not solving this problem, according to Monroe, the School Board is taking an “hour or so away” from students they could potentially use for homework. “Instead of going to bed at 10, [students] will go to bed at 11 and this may escalate the problem.”

On a personal level, this change in school start time will affect Monroe because of her after-school activities and amount of homework. As she swims outdoors every day and must wear a wetsuit in the winter, Monroe details her experience of swimming outdoors and soon in the dark with the accompaniment of a late school end time as “freezing.”

As Monroe does not see this later school start time as potentially working in the future, she expects the School Board to address the problem with this statement: “We tried to fix the problem… it’s all fine.”

Furthermore, regarding the time change and her apparent conclusion of how the School Board will react, Monroe said, “It is not all right. Students need less homework and less pressure on things we have to do, instead of the school system saying this will solve all your problems because it syncs up your sleep cycle.”