Starting next year, all Seattle high schools will push their start times later — most of them by almost an hour — and most elementaries will start significantly earlier under an overhaul of the district's bell schedule school board members approved Wednesday night.
The board's 6-1 vote puts Seattle Public Schools on a relatively short list: by one count, only 70 districts nationwide have pushed back high school start times in an effort to match students' natural sleep rhythms with their school schedules.
Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, all Seattle high schools will start at 8:45 a.m. and dismiss at 3:15 p.m. And all but one middle school will push their schedules later by almost an hour to start at 8:45 a.m.
For a breakdown of the changes, take a look at this spreadsheet. Here's the high school portion:
The high schools are essentially swapping start times with many of Seattle's elementary schools. Of the district's 61 elementaries, 49 schools will now begin their days at 7:55 a.m. and let out at 2:05 p.m.
But 11 elementary schools will actually start later next year, at 9:35 a.m. — a decision district staff said they made primarily to ensure the shuffle did not increase busing costs.
"Given the requirement for cost neutrality, this plan is an exceptional value," said parent Diane Casper, a member of a district bell times task force and a group that advocated for later high school start times.
At some of the 11 elementary schools keeping the latest start times, the new bell times plan is not going over well. Parents decried decried board members' direction to district officials to keep the changes cost-neutral.
Parent Chris Weinman said Lafayette Elementary has long been stuck with a later start time.
"We’ve been getting this raw deal for the past seven years, so we were the ones picked to keep continue getting it. You picked the school that got the worst treatment and continued that treatment," he said.
But assistant superintendent Pegi McEvoy said the district had created a process with the potential to address these schools' concerns, since principals of some elementary schools with new, earlier start times expressed a desire to start later.
McEvoy said the district would allow a principal to volunteer her school to swap its schedule with that of another school. If the other school is a compatible match, the district could then determine whether the change is cost-neutral.
Start times at most of the district's K-8 schools will stay practically the same. Nine K-8 schools will see their start times shift only ten minutes later, but the remaining two K-8 schools will see a bigger change. The starting bell at Broadview-Thomson and Madrona will ring at 7:55 a.m. next year, an hour-and-a-half earlier than the school’s current start time.
The plan promises to have broad-reaching impacts on the daily lives of Seattle students and their families.
The school day won't get any shorter for Seattle high school students, but research suggests the change will help align their school schedules with their natural sleep rhythms. A University of Minnesota study found later start times help more teens get eight hours of sleep on school nights.
Other school districts that shifted to later high school bell schedules saw reductions in car crashes, absenteeism and tardiness — and even saw higher test scores, according to the study.
The changes could have huge impacts on the families of elementary school students trying to arrange before- and after-school care for their children. Roughly one-third of Seattle middle- and high-schoolers report having to look after a younger sibling, friend or neighbor outside of school hours. If these older students are in school until later in the day, they won't be able to provide child care.
The changes also will increase the amount of time each year many Seattle elementary school students will have to walk to school in the dark, as a district environmental analysis notes.