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Orange Ribbon Program Encourages Maryland Schools to Start Later

Last week, Maryland’s governor enacted the Orange Ribbon Bill for Healthy School Hours, the country’s first legislation that will help schools implement better, safer and healthier class starting times.

The bipartisan legislation, which was sponsored by Delegate Aruna Miller, was filed with a companion bill and becomes effective on July 1 of this year. It will keep Maryland on course as the national leader for the Start School Later Movement.

The initiative encourages school districts to work with communities to run schools at healthy start times. The requirements for schools to be recognized as a part of the movement are based on the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Early start times at schools has long been recognized as a public health issue. Health professionals have been advocating for later start times since the early 1990s. Many Maryland public high schools still begin before 7:30 a.m., with many students waiting for buses at 5:30 a.m.

The recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is that no middle or high school should start before 8:30 a.m. Unhealthy sleep habits developed in these formative years could negatively impact students later in life — after all, an estimated 50 to 70 million U.S. adults have a sleep or wakefulness disorder.

Maryland residents are proud of the state pioneering these waters.

“I am pleased that Maryland continues to set the standard for academic excellence,” said Danielle Brooks, an Annapolis mother of three who leads Start School Later’s legislative efforts in Maryland. “I am proud to have my children in Maryland public schools.”

Maryland proponents of later school times believe that the no-cost, voluntary incentive time will really encourage schools to take action.

Instead of requiring districts to change times, the Orange Ribbon program has established three levels of recognition, with the top tier reserved for districts where middle or high schools start class no earlier than 8:30 a.m., and elementary schools no earlier than 8 a.m.

Ann Gallagher, a founding member of the Montgomery County’s Start School Later, is optimistic about the initiative.

“Montgomery County’s multi-year, full-county effort to change start times, supported by over 80% of county parents, resulted in only a small step toward healthful start times,” Gallagher said. “Our supporters of healthy school hours hope the Orange Ribbon legislation will make it easier for other Maryland counties to establish appropriate start times for students’ health.”

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