Parents, students and teachers pleaded with school board members Thursday night to consider pushing back school start times in Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS).
Dozens of audience members stood when called upon to show that they were all wearing black clothing.
"It's the color that represents the sky in early morning when our children are waiting for their bus," said Heather Macintosh, who handles publicity for the Start School Later group and works with the Annapolis Education Commission.
The public hearing was the second held this week to provide an opportunity for the community to comment on the superintendent's proposed $239 million capital budget for the coming year.
Pushing back the start of school is not among the superintendent's recommendations.
Christine Kovac, a sophomore at Broadneck High School, said students can't be expected to perform at their best when they've just rolled out of bed.
"I have to be at the top of my game at 7 a.m.," Kovac said.
Macintosh led the pack of Start School Later volunteers, saying they numbered 3,500 in a recent petition. The group wants to see new start times implemented for the next school year, she said.
"I have not found any research that says 7:17 a.m. is the optimum time to start high school," Macintosh said. "This schedule is out of sync with the sleep needs of and rhythms of adolescents and teens."
Lisa Rodvien, a social studies teacher at Annapolis High School, said she could improve academic achievement and keep teens safer in one fell swoop, if only school could start a little later. She noted that other school systems have implemented the policy change, such as those in Loudon and Arlington, VA, and remained successful.
Start School Later supporters said board members should take a close look at resolving any issues with transportation a new start time for high schools could create. In many instances, a staggered start schedule allows the same buses to be used to transport elementary, middle and high school students.
However, like other issues broached at the hearing, starting high school later was a one-sided conversation. The public was there to air their concerns with the school system's proposed budget, but board members do not respond or engage in conversation during or after the testimony.
A budget workshop with the school board is set for Jan. 22. The public is invited to attend, but testimony will not be taken. On Feb. 20, the board is set to vote on the full budget package, which will then be handed over to the county for review and approval in June.