High school students in Stafford County Schools may no longer have early school start times.

During a July school board work session, Stafford County Schools Superintendant Dr. Scott Kizner presented options and suggestions for reopening the county’s schools, one of which was changing and staggering school start times.

Under Dr. Kizner’s plan, elementary school students, who regularly start school the latest out of all grade levels, would be both attending and leaving school the earliest due to their status as ‘vulnerable learners’ and the needed adjustments of bus routes.

“The very first group of ‘vulnerable learners’ listed in this guidance is ‘early learners’ [elementary school students]. While we have developed a plan to ensure a face to face option for all students in SCPS, the state clearly articulates the need for us to give special attention/priority to groups who have been affected most by the impacts of COVID-19,” stated a presentation from Dr. Kizner.

Under the proposed schedule changes, elementary school students in Stafford County would be either attending school at 7:30 am or 8:30 am, instead of 9:00 am, and leaving a 1:30 pm or 2:00 pm, instead of 3:40 pm. The start and end times for elementary students, if the plan is approved, will depend on which school they go to, as the schedules are being staggered and schools are being designated with either ‘shift 1’ or ‘shift 2,’ according to Dr. Kizner’s plan.

These shifts are being implemented to accommodate transportation needs, as social distancing regulations would require Stafford County Schools’ buses to be at less than a third of normal capacity.

“We transport many more elementary children than we do middle and high school,” said Dr. Kizner.

The schools in shift one, which would start at 7:30 am and end at 1:30 pm, would be Ferry Farm, Grafton Village, Hampton Oaks, Hartwood, Margaret Brent, Rockhill, Stafford, and Widewater Elementary Schools. The schools in shift two, which would start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 2:00 p.m., would be Anthony Burns, Conway, Falmouth, Garrisonville, Kate Waller Barrett, Moncure, Park Ridge, Rocky Run, and Winding Creek Elementary Schools.

A proposed elementary school schedule for Stafford County Public Schools.

This altered start/end times for elementary schoolers, by design, changes the start/end time for middle and high schoolers in Stafford County Schools as well. If the proposed changes are approved, middle school students would begin school between 9:30 and 10 a.m., instead of the normal 7:45 a.m., and be dismissed between 3 and 3:30 p.m., instead of the normal 2:50 p.m. High schoolers, on the other hand, would start school at between 10:30  and 11:00 a.m., instead of the normal 7:40 a.m., and be dismissed between 4:15 and 4:45 p.m., instead of 2:15 p.m.

The proposed new middle school schedule for Stafford County Public Schools.
The proposed new high school schedule for Stafford County Public Schools.

While these adjusted times may be beneficial for the school division in terms of organization and transportation, it may not be beneficial for the health of the division’s students in terms of sleep loss. According to The Sleep Council, children between the ages of 6-12 (elementary/middle school-aged children) need 10-12 hours of sleep, while children aged 12-18 (middle-school/high school-aged children) only need 8-9 hours of sleep.

“This means that a seven-year-old, who wakes at 7 a.m., should ideally be in bed between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.. For some a 7 pm bedtime may not be realistic, especially if you’re a working parent who doesn’t get home until 6 pm and needs to prepare dinner, check homework and sort bath and bedtimes as well as having some quality family time,” stated an article from The Sleep Council.

Dr. Kizer, however, assured parents that this schedule is only a possibility due to the global pandemic and that the school division does not intend to utilize it when things go back to normal.

“Please remember this is a COVID-19 plan, the school board has not made any decisions beyond COVID-19 of changing the starting times,” said Dr. Kizner.

The school board is set to further discuss this matter during their July 14 meeting.

Stafford students will return to school on August 17.