An advisory committee has recommended swapping school start times in Seattle, with middle and high schools starting later than elementary schools.
Seattle high schools and middle schools should start at least an hour later than they do now, and most elementary schools should start 90 minutes sooner, says a committee that has spent seven months figuring out a schedule better suited to teen-sleep needs.
Its recommendations, released Wednesday morning, would cost an estimated $3 million for busing and probably wouldn’t take effect until fall 2016 at the earliest.
If the School Board approves the changes, Seattle would be among the largest districts in the country to push back high-school start times.
“For maximizing academic achievement, health and safety, and equitable access to educational opportunities, improving school-start times may be the most cost-effective investment the district can make,” the committee wrote.
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Superintendent Larry Nyland, who late last year convened the committee of parents, teachers, sleep experts, community members and district staff, will present his own proposal at meetings in September and October. The School Board is expected to make a final decision by November.
The board got the ball rolling more than a year ago, prompted by mounting scientific evidence that teens are biological night owls who may suffer chronic sleep deprivation that impairs learning, health and safety when they start school before 8 a.m.
Several organizations back later start times, including the Seattle Council PTSA, the Seattle School Nurses Association, the Seattle Education Association and Start School Later Seattle, the local chapter of a national nonprofit.
Start School Later, in a prepared statement, called the recommendations “a major step forward.”
But while the idea seems simple, changing schedules affects elementary-school students, athletics, and before- and after-school programs that would need to adjust their hours accordingly.
Only about 70 districts nationwide have adjusted their bell times, including Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia — the 11th-largest school district in the country. That districtapproved later start times for high-school students last fall after two years of planning.
In the Seattle area, the Bellevue, Mercer Island, Northshore and Lake Washington districts are also working toward changing high-school schedules, but face the same complicating factors that Seattle does.
About a decade ago, the Issaquah School District spent two years trying to figure out how to rejigger its schedules before deciding to leave the bell times alone.
Most high schools and all middle schools in Seattle now start at 7:50 a.m. and let out at 2:20 p.m. Under the committee’s recommendations, all high schools would instead start at 8:50 a.m. and let out at 3:20 p.m.
Middle schools and K-8 schools would start even later, at 9:40 a.m. and let out 4:10 p.m.
Most elementary schools, which now begin at either 8:40 a.m. or 9:30 a.m., would begin at 8 a.m. and end at 2:10 p.m., and the rest would start at 8:50 a.m. and end at 3 p.m.
The committee is still sorting though survey data, but based on email comments and other feedback, its report identifies several pros and cons for the option they selected.
One benefit is that all middle- and high-school students would start school after 8:30 a.m., which is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended last year.
Also on the pro-side of the ledger: Middle-school students would be in school, supervised, until 4:10 p.m.
On the other hand, the starting times for K-8 students would be so late in the morning that it may not be ideal for early-waking younger students.
Some elementary-school students also might have to stand at bus stops in the dark for a few weeks in the winter, though the district would try to rejigger bus schedules to avoid that as much as possible.
And the later dismissal times for high school might put too much of a squeeze on afternoon sports, especially on fields that, under an agreement with the city, adult leagues use, too.
Although the recommendations gained support from the vast majority of the 30- member committee, there were three minority reports. One raised concerns about how the schedule changes would affect working parents’ schedules and after-school programs.
The second, from the Seattle School Nurse Association, argued that the 9:40 start for K-8 schools would be “unpopular with staff and families and not address the learning needs of younger students in the K-8 schools.”
The third asked the district to consider how the changes would affect teens who may need to work after school or care for younger siblings while their parents work.
The committee’s recommended plan was among three that Nyland asked the committee members to explore.
The other two options were to do nothing or give high-school students the option to start early or late, extending the high-school day. The latter got no votes.
Early on, the committee considered yet another option that would have meant schools started at one of two times: 8 a.m. or 8:50 a.m.
The option was popular among committee members, but district staff estimated it would cost between $7 million to $12 million in extra transportation costs, and Nyland did not ask the group to seek community feedback on it.