Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Seattle School District to consider changing school start times

school-bus-topWe all remember just how enticing the snooze button looked when our alarm went off at 6:15 every morning in high school. Sleep deprivation – as students tried to balance their studies with part-time work and a social life – has become the norm for many young adults.

The issue is particularly problematic for those in high school as most adolescents experience changes in their bodies that  create havoc with the sleep times that worked when they were younger.  In recent years, a good deal of research has been done looking at the effects of delayed start times on high school students. And the findings?  Usually, later start times are correlated with improved mood, energy, and decreased truancy. Studies have also shown that “clear increases of academic performance from just starting school later.”

Last month, the issues of start times – and, necessarily, bus times – were again considered by Seattle Public Schools, and some argued that the current system should be flipped. Rather than having elementary school students start school later (most start between 8:30-9:20), it should be the older kids – who are more stressed and in need of sleep – who begin and end classes later. Currently, Seattle Public Schools’ middle and high schools start between 7:50-8:30, with buses arriving as early as 7:35.

Although the literature suggests there might be benefits to such a change, it could also cause major disruptions to current high school students. West Seattle High School principal Ruth Medsker, for example, wrote that such a change “has major ramifications for high school students, including after-school jobs and athletics, as well as before- and after-school child care for elementary school families.” She also noted that it would mean that elementary school students, and not high school students, “would be waiting for buses in the dark during much of the year.”

So, in essence, no change would be easy, and families would have to make potentially major adjustments should the times flip. That being said, such concerns could prove relatively small in comparison to the gains that would come from more attentive and achieving students.

While no radical changes were made to the 2013-2014 school year schedule, Medsker noted that the district isn’t simply disregarding the idea, but will instead “develop a District-wide survey in the fall … to make recommendations to the School Board in time for the 2014-15 school year.”

By EOI Intern Bill Dow

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