Local News

Wake County High Schools, Elementary Schools May Swap Starting Times

Posted January 5, 2004

— When Margaret Millen heads back to school Tuesday, she will be up bright and early. The 11th-grader supports a proposal that would allow her to sleep in.

"It's harder for me to get up in the morning because I'm not a morning person, and I pretty much sleep through the first period," Millen said.

A major change could be in store for Millen and Wake County's 100,000 students. School administrators are considering a schedule swap -- starting the elementary school day about an hour earlier, around 7:30 a.m., and starting high schools about an hour later, around 9 a.m.

The proposed change stems from studies that show teenagers need more sleep. But the change could turn things upside down for parents and students.

Garner High School's athletic director said a later start time for high school would have student-athletes practicing until nearly 8 p.m. It also could mean more of an expense to light an athletic field.

But proponents said teens could get much-needed rest.

Research shows that teenagers need at least 8 and a half hours of sleep each night. According to

The National Sleep Foundation,

high-schoolers will be more alert and will learn more if the bell rings later.

Switching starting times would mean elementary-school students would be the ones getting up at dawn.

Gail Sprecher said it is hard enough now to wake up her two youngest kids. She said they would be even more tired under the proposed change.

But there's more that concerns her.

"I am just not comfortable with sending children that young out at 7 a.m., when it's still dark," Sprecher said.

Swapping start times also could complicate parents' work schedules and rule out older siblings babysitting their younger brothers or sisters after school.

Even though more teens drive to class, under this proposal, bus leaders still expect the same bus to run three routes each morning and afternoon.

"With the number of students we have in this system . . . we don't see any less ridership on school buses," Senior Transportation Director Vern Hatley said.

The Program Committee is likely to take up all the proposals at its meeting at the end of January.

The schedule switch is one of three proposals under consideration. Under another proposal, middle school could start at 9 a.m. and high school and elementary school around 7:30 a.m.

The committee also could opt not to change the schedule at all.

If there is a change, it would take effect next school year. A decision is expected by April.

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