Seattle considers shifting school start times to combat sleepy high schoolers

Garfield High School,  Seattle WA:  South and West Elevations
To help middle and high schoolers get a more productive school day, Seattle Public Schools is working on a plan to shift the school day later for 6th-12th graders while shifting elementary kids to earlier start times to balance out the district’s education and transportation resources:

Theory and research indicate that starting school later may be beneficial for the academic achievement and health of teenagers, while the same theory suggests that elementary students should not be adversely affected by an earlier start time. Findings from organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and National Sleep Foundation (NSF) conclude that adolescents need about nine hours of sleep per night for optimal health and brain development. In addition, several groups have indicated support for a later start time including the Seattle Council PTSA, the Seattle School Nurses Association, and the Seattle Education Association. More than 3,550 parents, guardians, teachers, and pediatricians signed a petition given to Seattle Public Schools to delay start times for high school and middle students. The School Board has received thousands of emails requesting the shift to a later start time for adolescents.

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 4.40.26 PMFriday night brings the Central Seattle edition of the district’s community meeting series to discuss the “Cost Neutral Modified Flip” recommendation:

Seattle Public Schools is hosting five community meetings September 29 to October 5 to share information about the Superintendent’s Final Draft Recommendation on Bell Time Changes.  Staff members will present information, answer questions and collect feedback.

At each meeting, the Superintendent’s Final Draft Recommendation will be presented to attendees, after which questions will be taken and feedback collected.  All meetings are 6:30 P.M. – 7:30 P.M.

Friday, October 2, 2015Washington Middle SchoolLibrary(2101 South Jackson Street)Spanish, Somali, Vietnamese, Chinese
Monday, October 5, 2015Jane Addams Middle School(11051 34th Avenue Northeast)Chinese, Spanish

According to survey data from SPS (PDF), support for the “flip” plan is strongest in North Seattle schools with less support as you move south. White respondents were also more likely to support the change. The recommendation being pursued does not “does not increase operational costs for transportation,” according to the district.

If ultimately approved by the board, the new times will be implemented for the 2016/2017 school year.

The district is also accepting comments through October 6th via

UPDATE: The parents at Stevens Elementary have, um, sounded the alarm. The 18th Ave E school is one of the facilities being lined up for a 9:40 AM start time with the school day running through 3:50 PM — an hour later shift from the current bells.

The PTA is, well, concerned:

The Stevens PTA Board just learned that
SPS is proposing to move the Stevens start time to:
9:40AM – one hour later
for the 2016 school year.

If adopted, Stevens would run
from 9:40AM-3:50PM

The Stevens PTA Board is concerned that the proposed changes would adversely challenge our families.

A Community Meeting is TONIGHT,
Friday, October 2, 2015
Washington Middle School
6:30PM – 7:30PM

We encourage you to attend and provide feedback to to the Seattle School District.

Lowell, Capitol Hill’s other public elementary, is proposed for a 8 AM start. You can see the proposed 2016/2017 start times for all schools here (PDF).

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5 thoughts on “Seattle considers shifting school start times to combat sleepy high schoolers

  1. I don’t think this change would be necessary if teenagers decreased their constant texting and social media compulsion until all hours, and instead got to bed at 10PM or so.

    • Not necessarily.

      It’s my understanding that studies have shown for years that as kids enter puberty their circadian rhythm starts shifting. Making it difficult to fall asleep before 10 or 11 while also requiring at least 9 hours to feel rested.

      If they were, as you suggest, going to bed at 10pm and able to fall asleep immediately, 9 hours would mean waking up at 7am.

      I’m having trouble finding current start times for Seattle schools but did find a note in a Seattle Times article stating that most Seattle high schools start at 8am or earlier. And for my own high school I believe we started at 7:20.

      For kicks, let’s assume a start time 7:30. To get those requisite 9 hours and give someone an hour and a half to get ready for their day and make the actual commute, we’re talking about going to bed at 9:00pm. Which as I stated above, can be as much as 1-2 hours before many of them are naturally able to fall asleep.

      Ever go to bed and not be able to sleep for upwards of 30 minutes? Staring at the ceiling as the likelihood of a painful morning increases with each shift in the clock.. It’s frustrating right? Makes it harder and harder to fall asleep as the night goes on. It seems reasonable to assume that many teenagers would find midnight quickly approaching despite their best efforts to get to bed on time.

      A few articles on teens and sleep.

    • You’re kidding, right? Because, as I recall, I didn’t have cell phones or texting or a computer or even a TV in my bedroom (just a stereo, a phone, and lots of books) and when I was 16, trying to fall asleep before 10 was impossible. I also had to sleep a good 12 hours not to feel groggy or tired all day. You want to know what it was blamed on then? The fact the I read too much or played music all night. (Wasn’t allowed to use the phone after 9 or so, and I wasn’t a big TV watcher back then.)

      So, yeah. Don’t blame tech when it’s pretty obvious this is a natural and normal phenomenon proven by actual scientific facts and endorsed by doctors.

    • Going to bed and getting up early are preferences, not virtues.

      I’ve always thought that it was a bit cruel to make kids start school so early in the morning, especially high school. I was often up late into the night doing my homework, and definitely felt groggy with an 8 am start time.

  2. I wish we could start this now! Over the last 5 years the start time for our Elementary school has slowly crept earlier and earlier. We have to set three alarms to keep the morning on track to get to school.