The numbers are building.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 6,200 people had signed an online petition calling for Montgomery County Public Schools to change high school start times from 7:25 a.m. to after 8:15 a.m.

But will all those signatures ultimately have an impact on school leaders?

That’s difficult to say.

The issue “absolutely has been put on our radar screen,” MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr said during an appearance Wednesday on WAMU’s The Kojo Nnamdi Show, adding that school officials will “dust off” a 1998 study on the same topic. Issues with bus transportation shelved a change at that time.

“I get it. I definitely understand the thinking behind it,” Starr said. “I get that absolutely.”

Still Starr was noncommittal about whether MCPS and the Board of Education would act, noting that school officials need to be careful about making policy decisions based on petitions— even if they garner lots of support.  

So MCPS will consider the petition once it’s presented and Starr said he’s “looking forward to helping people understand the complexity of the issue.”

Mandi Mader, the Garrett Park parent and clinical social worker behind the movement to change starting times, is hoping MCPS will do much more than examine outdated studies.

“I don’t want them to be looking at 10-year-old information,” Mader said Thursday. “I want them to be looking at more current outcomes.” 

Efforts to change high school start times here in the county and elsewhere are nothing new. But the movement seems to be gaining some momentum this time around, fueled by growing research showing that teens’ biological clocks don’t match up with traditional high school start times.

Throw in late nights spent studying due to participation in sports and activities, and holding down after-school jobs, and it’s no wonder that many teens seem to resemble characters from The Walking Dead.

It’s well known that chronic sleep deprivation can lead to daytime fatigue, concentration and memory problems and a host of other health issues, including depression.

And research shows that changing start times can help alleviate these issues, resulting in fewer absences from school and less behavior problems, Mader said. She and other supporters have founded a local chapter of Start School Later, a national coalition calling for schools to set start times that are more compatible with students’ health, safety and ability to learn.   

There are those who say that starting high school later won’t help because teens won’t go to bed any earlier. That may be true, but isn’t the issue about providing more time to sleep in the morning when their bodies require it?

Starr said he knows of school systems that have made the change and he’s heard about others who have and say “Don’t do it.” In a district with nearly 149,000 students, the issues are huge, including changing times and bus scheduling for all 200 MCPS schools, MCPS officials say.

And the district is already focusing on other issues, including improving teaching and learning, Starr said.

Mader acknowledges that change is always hard and takes much time and energy. Still, she’s hoping MCPS will take notice of the rising momentum supporting later start times.

“I really want [Starr] to see this will solve so many of the problems that are already priorities,” she said.

Julie Rasicot

Julie Rasicot can be reached at