Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland will introduce his recommendation for changing bell times at Wednesday’s School Board meeting.

Share story

Middle- and high-school students in Seattle Public Schools could start their days later and elementary students earlier under a recommendation from Superintendent Larry Nyland.

Nyland recommends that, starting next September, high schools and most middle schools start at 8:50 a.m., most elementary schools start at 8 a.m., and K-8 schools start at 8 a.m., 8:50 a.m. or 9:40 a.m.

A total of 13 schools — three K-8 and 10 elementary schools — would start at 9:40 a.m., and Denny International Middle School would start at 8 a.m.

Recommended start times

8 a.m.: Most elementary schools, three K-8 schools, Denny International Middle School

8:50 a.m.: All high schools, most middle schools, five K-8 schools

9:40 a.m.: 10 elementary schools, three K-8 schools

Source: Seattle Public Schools

Some parents at the elementary schools with the 9:40 a.m. start already have expressed frustration over the proposed change, saying the district hasn’t been transparent about its decisions and that those students could be excluded from after-school activities.

Nyland’s proposal will be introduced at Wednesday’s School Board meeting and is scheduled for a Nov. 4 vote.

The proposed changes mirror a report from a task force that studied the issue for seven months. It had recommended an 8:50 a.m. start time for high schools and an 8 a.m. start time for most elementary students. The superintendent strayed from the task force’s recommendation that middle school and K-8 students begin at 9:40 a.m., however.

Nyland modified the recommendations to eliminate an estimated $3 million in busing costs that district staff said would have been needed to carry out the task force’s proposals. Under Nyland’s proposal, busing costs would remain steady.

But his proposal would mean that nearly all adolescents in the district would not start school before 8:30 a.m., which is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. Most high schools and all middle schools in Seattle now start at 7:50 a.m. and let out at 2:20 p.m.

If the School Board approves the changes, Seattle would be among the largest districts in the country to push back high-school start times.

It also will follow Bellevue, whose School Board voted this month to move high-school start times to 8:30 a.m. beginning next school year.

Other area districts have considered later start times for high-schoolers as well.

In Seattle, most families want either an 8 a.m. or 8:50 a.m. start time, the district has said.

But officials said they don’t have the estimated $8 million to $15 million it would cost to move all schools to one of those two times.

In its deliberations, the task force considered transportation, scheduling and budget issues, as well as before- and after-school activities that would be affected by the change.

If the board approves Nyland’s proposal, elementary students will end up traveling to school before full daylight for a few weeks per year.

In a minority report to the task force, the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition wrote that the bell-time shifts may have unintended consequences.

For elementary students, before-school providers may have to rework or eliminate their programs, the coalition wrote. At the high-school level, the later end time may reduce the amount of time for tutoring or other activities.

Only about one in five of middle and high schools in Washington now start at 8:30 a.m. or later, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Want to receive Education Lab’s daily reports by email?  Sign up for the Education Lab newsletter.