School districts should follow guidelines to delay start times for high classes to allow teens to sleep more and do better in school.
SCHOOL districts should follow medical and sleep experts’ advice to push back high-school start times to better accommodate teens’ sleep patterns.
The Bellevue School District School Board has already approved a change in start times for next fall. Seattle’s School Board should follow suit when it votes Wednesday on a similar proposal. Mercer Island is also considering the change.
The shift is a smart investment in the success of the future workforce. Additional sleep improves attendance, academic performance and energy levels throughout the day for students who are preparing for college or their future careers.
More than 70 other U.S. school districts have delayed high-school start times. Making the change is complicated, especially for coordinating after-school activities, and requires some creativity. Northshore School District this fall is trying out an optional seventh period that allows students to start at 8:20 a.m. instead of 7:20 a.m.
Any significant change in a district as large as Seattle is bound to come with challenges. The district’s proposal would move 15 high schools and nine middle schools to start at 8:50 a.m. and end at 3:20 p.m. — about an hour later than current schedules.
But 13 elementary and K-8 schools, which serve 17 percent of the district’s 53,000 students, would start classes at 9:40 a.m. and end between 3:50 and 4:10 p.m.
Some parents worry that a later schedule is not right for younger kids and that some young children will have to walk home in the dark.
Those concerns already play out in Seattle. Thirty-three schools, including 28 elementary and five K-8s, start at 9:30 a.m., so reducing the number to 13 would be an improvement.
District staff zeroed in on a cost-neutral solution instead of alternatives that would have required about $3 million in additional costs on top of the more than $35 million the district budgeted for transportation this school year.
Fiscal prudence is important, but so is providing the best conditions for learning. The district should find ways to phase in the 13 most impacted schools as soon as possible and create a standard schedule for the entire district.
Just as districts are responding to the needs of teenage students, they must do the same for students of all grades and ages.