Fairfax County mom petitions for later school start times

“We were leaving at 6:50 a.m. and that was the best case scenario,” says Phyllis Payne.

Even three years after her youngest son left Fairfax County schools, Payne still remembers the difficulty of getting her kids and herself out the door on time for the 7:20 a.m. school bell.

“My husband and I took turns driving because it was exhausting to do it every day,” she says.

Payne is a former teacher and co-founder of S.L.E.E.P.,, a grassroots organization pushing for later start times for Fairfax County high schools for nearly a decade.

“It’s really hard for parents to wake their kids. I mean, there are parents that literally pull their kids out of bed,” she says.

The county’s student health advisory committee made new recommendations to the school board Tuesday, urging members to continue researching the feasibility of later start times. It’s a follow-up to a recent resolution authorizing a $143,000 consulting contract to study possible scenarios.

“It’s been awful for my boys,” says Megan McLaughlin.

McLaughlin is a parent and member of the school board, but says later start times would mean a major change to bus routes, which could be costly.

“Trying to find a solution that we can afford in this county is going to be our biggest challenge,” she says.

Payne’s son will be graduating soon, but she says the issue lingers for future students.

“It’s no longer a question of ‘whether.’”