The school board in Arlington, Virginia, has approved changes to its school start and end times that will increase the amount of daily time students spend in the classroom.

The School Board in Arlington, Virginia, voted to lengthen the school day by a little less than 10 minutes and to rearrange school start and end times in the first change to the county school system’s bell schedule in more than two decades.

At its Thursday meeting, the board unanimously voted in favor of the adjustments, which include:

Lengthening the middle school day by nine minutes, with middle schools operating starting at 7:50 a.m. and ending at 2:35 p.m. Currently, the county’s six middle schools run from 7:50 a.m. to 2:24 p.m.
Lengthening the high school day by eight minutes, starting classes at 8:20 a.m. and ending at 3:10 p.m. Currently, the county’s three high schools run from 8:19 a.m. to 3:01 p.m.
Lengthening the elementary school day by nine minutes, with some schools operating from 7:50 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. and others from 9 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. Currently, the county’s 20 elementary schools run on a staggered schedule with start times at 8 a.m., 8:25 a.m. and 9 a.m.

New bell times for Arlington schools, effective next school year.
The current bell schedule for schools in Arlington, Virginia.

The changes will go into effect next school year. School officials previously said the shifts would save the county $1.8 million, because fewer bus drivers would be needed.

The changes stem from a comprehensive bell study. Officials said the county’s 27,000 students spent less time in classes than those in surrounding jurisdictions. The county hadn’t conducted a bell study since the 1999-2000 school year, county officials previously said.

Among about 6,200 people who responded to the bell schedule survey, most respondents selected maintaining the current bell schedule as their top response.

Prince William County schools also recently sent families a survey regarding potential changes to bell times.

“Undertaking a process that hasn’t changed in over 20 years, it’s a big step,” said Arlington School Board member David Priddy. “We can’t keep doing things the same we always did, and that’s what we’ve been talking about for a while.”

Vice Chair Reid Goldstein said that the county should consider using a professional firm to conduct its surveys moving forward, because “goals aren’t always achieved” when surveys are too long, have a short response window or aren’t offered in many languages — feedback he said he has heard in the case of the bell survey.

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One school with 350 families, he said, provided 21 responses.

“The school has a high percentage of Spanish-speaking families who don’t use email or who find a long survey to be inaccessible,” Goldstein said. “But 21 out of 350 has to be seen as a red flag that a different community outreach mechanism must be employed.”

Board Chair Barbara Kanninen said the changes will help the school system be more efficient in getting students to schools on time.

The board also voted to adopt its nearly $750 million budget for fiscal 2023, which includes money for tutoring initiatives. The programming will cost $628,000 and will be offered to students in grades 6-12.

A school system spokesman said that a procurement process will be launched to pick a vendor for the start of the next school year. The program is expected to be virtual, giving students access to a tutor on demand 24/7.

Fairfax County Public Schools is offering a similar service to students through a partnership with Tutor.com.

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