Dear Fairfax County Athletic Community and Supporters:
The Fairfax County School Board has begun discussions regarding a proposed change in the schools’ bell schedule that could take effect as early as this fall. This proposal is backed by community members who believe that a later start time for high schools will result in increased academic performance because students will have extra time to sleep. Recent FCPS studies have shown that the switch in times could be implemented at little to no cost, resulting in increased momentum for the proposal.
The Fairfax County Athletic Council believes that such a change would have significant impacts on the athletic community. Primarily, the proposed change will result in a drastic reduction of available facility space for the county’s community sports participants. Reduced facility space will result in reduced abilities to provide youth with opportunities to participate in sports. In an impact statement delivered this week to the Board of Supervisors, county staff indicated that later high school dismissal times will necessitate later high school sports practices. As a result, during the winter, community use of middle schools will not begin until 7:30 p.m. in most cases. Shifting game schedules would result in high schools using elementary school gyms for practice as well.
Off-campus use of fields for high school practices will also increase. High schools would need more off-campus fields, due to the limited number of lighted practice fields (the later dismissal times would push many practices beyond sundown). The off-campus fields currently used for practices would be used later, diminishing the community’s opportunity to use them when high school practices end. In addition, high schools plan to utilize more facility space on Saturdays for practices, further impacting space available to the community.
Space limitations at high schools necessitate this off-campus use. Currently, some seasons, no fewer than 72 fields at elementary and middle schools and parks are used for practices. In the winter, over 25 middle school gyms are used for high school basketball practice. As these facilities tend to be among the few full-sized locations, this impact becomes even greater. The Fairfax County Department of Community and Recreation Services schedules nearly 250,000 participants each year in gyms and on fields; over 187,000 of those participants are youth. So, the potential impact of this change cannot be overstated, as major changes in facility allocations will have a ripple effect that reaches nearly every participant.
A schedule change will be likely also to have an impact on field quality. The county’s community-based sports groups put thousands of hours of effort and hundreds of thousands of dollars into facility development each year through field adoption programs and turf field development. If community use times on school fields become limited, groups may decide to discontinue these investments.
Those backing the change have indicated that the solution to this problem lies in moving practices, whether for the high schools or the community, to the morning. However, we feel that this is impractical for several reasons, including facility availability, coach availability, and transportation for participants. Finally, and most starkly, asking student athletes to practice in the morning would offset any of the benefits that are being claimed for extra time to sleep in.
Please remember that extracurricular involvement is key to students’ success both inside and outside the classroom. The proponents of the schedule change believe that extra sleep will improve the academic performance of high school students. We all know that there are many factors, however, that contribute to scholastic success. Through their participation in sports, for example, kids learn many of the skills and behaviors and form many of the relationships that help them succeed in school and in life beyond school.
I urge you to get involved on this issue. The School Board, so far, has heard primarily from those advocating this change. Many segments of the community stand to be adversely affected, though, and those voices need to be heard. Here are ways to get involved:
• Attend one of the FCPS Community Dialogue Meetings scheduled for February 24, 25, and 26. These meetings are being held in multiple locations across the county and you do not need to sign up in advance to attend or speak. More information on these meetings can be found at http://www.fcps.edu/news/start.htm
• Participate in the public surveys on this issue being conducted by FCPS. You can find the survey online at www.fcps.edu.
• Put your views about the proposed change in bell schedule in writing and send them to your elected representatives, especially those on the School Board.
o You can find contact information for your School Board representative on the FCPS website at http://www.fcps.edu/schlbd/members.htm
. In addition to your district representative, be sure to copy Chairman Daniel Storck and the three at-large members of the School Board: Ilryong Moon, Tina Hone, and James Raney.
o You can find contact information for your Board of Supervisors representative online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/government/board/. In addition to your district representative, be sure to copy Chairman Sharon Bulova.
• Discuss this with friends and neighbors and urge them to get involved as well.
Thank you for your time and involvement.
Chairman, Fairfax County Athletic Council