Big changes for Seattle schools’ bell times? Big concerns voiced at tonight’s district discussion

Seattle Public Schools‘ draft proposal for changing bell times didn’t draw much support among the two dozen or so people who showed up at the first of five public meetings about it, held tonight at Chief Sealth International High School.

The proposed change in so-called “bell times” starting next year follows years of advocacy for starting middle and high schools later, to better align with tweens’ and teens’ biological clocks.

The “draft proposal” would give all high schools in the district an 8:50 am start; that would be an hour later than West Seattle High School starts now, 10 minutes later than Chief Sealth IHS starts now. But the most dramatic change would be for middle schools, moving all to a 9:40 am start – that’s almost two hours later than the current 7:50 am start time they all have, including West Seattle’s Madison Middle School and Denny International High School.

Start times for K-8s and elementaries would vary. Local schools’ current start times and proposed new ones (as listed on a district handout) are below:

Pathfinder K-8, 8:40/8:50
Louisa Boren STEM K-8, 9:30/8:50
Alki, 8:40/8:00
Arbor Heights, 8:40/9:40
Concord, 9:30/9:40
Fairmount Park, 8:40, 8:00
Gatewood, 8:40/8:00
Highland Park, 8:40/9:40
Lafayette, 9:30/8:00
Roxhill, 9:30/9:40
Sanislo, 9:30/8:00
Schmitz Park, 8:40/8:00
West Seattle, 8:40/8:00

Tonight’s meeting, led by assistant superintendent Pegi McEvoy, got testy at times; most of those who spoke said they don’t want the times to change at all. That wasn’t necessarily a surprise, given that results of an online parent survey (see page 13 here) showed this area with the highest support (46 percent) for keeping the status quo. Concerns voiced at the meeting ranged from insufficient data supporting the change to uncertainty over how afterschool activities would be affected.

And that didn’t just mean classic extracurricular offerings such as athletics – for example, Denny principal Jeff Clark said his school and two other middle schools are showing significant improvement in closing the “achievement gap” thanks to special after-school academic programs; if school starts two hours later, those programs will end two hours later – keeping participants at school until 6:20 pm.

The data concerns had to do with results of a district survey about changing bell times. Most of the parents in attendance said the plan to move ahead was based on too small a set of responses to really justify the change. But McEvoy and staff pointed to slides showing that they had gathered and parsed large amounts of data from parents and students. One parent asked if elementary-school kids had been included – answer: no – while others wondered if the older students who responded realized that later times would affect after school activities and even the possibility of holding a job.

Regarding athletics and after-school activities, attendees wondered how the district was working with Seattle Parks regarding field use, especially for West Seattle HS and adjacent Hiawatha Playfield. According to McEvoy, a district contract with Parks has expired and they’re working on an agreement, but don’t want to finalize anything until the district makes its bell-times decision. Some parents suggested that seemed to be a backward way to go about it, and some wondered if practices would end up being moved to the morning hours before school, canceling the expected benefits of a later start time for classes.

About those benefits – those in opposition questioned whether the American Academy of Pediatrics‘ findings related to improved attendance and grade performance.

Other concerns included family schedules: How would this affect students who currently are responsible for picking up younger siblings? And if middle school started later, would 11- and 12-year-olds find themselves staying home for a few hours by themselves, and getting themselves to school?

There were a few voices of support, including someone who said studies back east showed this could result in GPA and attendance improvement.

So what happens now? The board – whose West Seattle rep, Marty McLaren, attended the meeting – will consider the issue as part of a transportation item on the agenda on October 21st, McEvoy said. The district, she added, is trying to work this out so that it’s “cost-neutral” in terms of bus schedules.

If you have something to say – pro, con, or otherwise – the district is continuing to accept comments through October 6th; e-mail yours to As noted above, 4 more meetings are planned elsewhere in the district; see the list here. If you want to read through some or all of the backstory and district documentation on this issue – go here.

46 Replies to "Big changes for Seattle schools' bell times? Big concerns voiced at tonight's district discussion"

  • Ms. Sparkles September 30, 2015 (12:20 am)

    I responded to the survey supporting High Schools starting later – I thought they were the ones whose circadian rhythms dictated the need later starts, not middle schoolers.
    Did I misunderstand the data? Or is SPS proposing a 1/2 baked solution?

  • David September 30, 2015 (1:04 am)

    If the concern is changing later start times for middle and high school, why are all the elementary school times changing as well? Some of the proposed elementary start times are an hour and a half earlier than now!
    My kid just started Kindergarten and I feel like I am constantly getting jacked around. Nobody ever seems to know what is going on, boundaries and bell times apparently shift on a whim, getting transportation and after school programs is a major hassle, and the schools have no funding for anything. Yay, 12 more years of this crap to look forward to.

  • known September 30, 2015 (4:05 am)

    If student sleep deprivation is the enemy, what studies have been scrutinized by SPS on blue screen sleeplessness and how it must be mitigated?

    The changed hours won’t do anything for kids if pre-sleep blue screen exposure is not eliminated.

  • Nick September 30, 2015 (5:50 am)

    9:30 is too late for elementary most parents work before 9:30 am forcing parents to look for before school care the district is totally out of touch with working families.

  • Mark September 30, 2015 (6:47 am)

    This is based on well supported science and hundreds of studies, not parent turnout. That’s like scrapping the space program because not enough people in Florida don’t know rocket science.

    Also, what ever happened to kids taking the bus to school in the morning? Why do parents need to take so many students to school?

  • Bonnie September 30, 2015 (6:57 am)

    Mark, so many parents need to take their kids to school because SPS does not supply bus service for every child. We live 1 1/2 miles from the school and do not receive bus service. There is a walk zone and it is huge. In middle school the walk zone for non after school activities is 2 miles.

  • rdf September 30, 2015 (6:59 am)

    Responding to Mark. My high school student is taken to school because whenever he tries to take the bus it passes him by because it is too full. I’ve talked to several parents with the same problem.

  • bsmomma September 30, 2015 (7:02 am)

    Maybe it’s to early this morning……But would this change the dismissal time? Would the Elementary schools get out earlier?

    • WSB September 30, 2015 (7:15 am)

      BSMomma, if you follow the link to the “handout” mentioned in the story, you’ll see the full list of proposed start/end times school-by-school, including the bus dropoff/pickup times.

  • Eileen September 30, 2015 (7:06 am)

    I think as a parent of a middle schooler later start is too just not two hours later because that’s what is convenient for the school district.

  • Norma September 30, 2015 (7:57 am)

    It seems a good idea to listen to the American Academy of Pediatrics. I hope the School District finds a way listen to and work out the problems caused for working parents. I raised my children many years ago as a stay at home mom. Some things were easier but we had some of the same issues. I am absolutely in awe of all of the families with both parents working or single parent families doing an awesome job. If the School District is going to make these changes work they have to work for them as well.

  • Jegharglemtmitskiltpånavn September 30, 2015 (7:57 am)

    There are two issues here: changing start times based on research that shows older students benefit more by starting later. BUT what the best start time, or times, is not what the district is proposing, those times are based on school bus schedules. In a perfect world, start times would be more similar across elementary, middle, and high school, but the buses are “driving” the start times, not the actual science of start times for students. Glad this is last year for MS–that start time is totally unreasonable.

  • Ray September 30, 2015 (8:46 am)

    Or maybe the whole circadian thing is bunk.

    Human can and do adapt to changing times (see are asinine adherence to daylight savings time changes). Humans can also do it as part of basic human biology.

    This is just making more excuses to justify these changes.

    It is amazing how the solution – have the kids go to bed earlier is not considered. They (the kids) can get adjusted to a changed sleep schedule.

  • jissy September 30, 2015 (9:01 am)

    They seem to talk about this year after year… how many meetings have been spent on this topic? Make a decision and change it or just stop talking about it! I

  • SLJ September 30, 2015 (9:01 am)

    Humans can adapt to different times, but the science behind the change in circadian rhythms for teens is well documented. Early bedtimes do not necessarily work for that exact reason.
    I agree a 9:40 start time is difficult for elementary families, but about a third of the schools already start at 9:30, so it’s not much of a difference.
    Bus availability does seem to be a limiting factor, but that’s the reality of poorly funded schools.

  • DV September 30, 2015 (9:12 am)

    I believe according to what I’ve read Ray, that there are changes in Circadian rhythms during adolescence that make it hard to get to sleep early. Adults can adapt; kids less so. I know I experienced this as a teen. I remember having to get up at 6:15am just to make my bus on time for a 7:50 start time and I was tired ALL the time. I support changing the school schedule, even though it means taking my elementary student to school before 8am, which I am not exactly thrilled about. =)

  • sy September 30, 2015 (9:14 am)

    My middle school burned while I was attending and we all had to be crammed into the remaining school on a 6-12 or 12-6 schedule. 4 unsupervised hours was great! I got in so much trouble that year! I didn’t get to sleep in any later, my parents still worked and had to make sure I would get up and go to school.

  • EG September 30, 2015 (9:20 am)

    The Proposed Bell Times were selected based on busing, not on optimum start times. The Task Force was given constraints that any change in times considered had to be a NET ZERO cost to SPS. The bus times arestructured in 3 Tiers, and they put schools into the Tiers available. High School received the middle (2nd Tier.) That left Elementary and Middle with 1st & 3rd. Those Tiers were the only ones that resembled the data that alleges elementary school students are early risers (earliest tier) and Middle School adolescents could start later (latest tier). This is a “it fits” Transportation Schedule not an optimum Bell Time schedule.

  • GAnative September 30, 2015 (9:22 am)

    They are making this entirely too difficult.

    Elem school = start at 7am
    Middle school = start at 8am
    High school = start at 9am

    High school extra curricular activities are before school instead of after. Athletic games/meets/matches held in late afternoon/evening.

  • rc September 30, 2015 (11:59 am)

    GAnative, please don’t bother commenting unless you have an informed point of view. Elementary school kids need 10-11 hours of sleep. Period. With bussing, you’re suggesting that they’re ASLEEP by 7:30ish to rise around 5:30AM in order to get to school. As well, these kids would be out of school at 1:10. This is simply ludicrous. BTW, the current SPS proposal has most elementary schools going from 8:00-2:10.
    You are correct in that extracurriculars at the middle and high school level will inevitably have to happen before school since athletics scheduling will be later in the evening due to the shift in bell times. But, if they have to rise early for extracurriculars you just killed the whole point of changing the start times in the first place.
    This issue of bell times changing is a big deal guys. Over 53,000 children and their families, established mentoring and tutoring programs, child safety, child care availability and costs, traffic patterns, and other extracurricular activities will all be affected and haven’t been adequately addressed by SPS.
    If meeting the circadian rhythm of teens is truly imminent and critical in their ability to be successful, then we must push for a continued and informed conversation which addresses the needs of the whole child from K-12. We cannot focus just on adolescents, but the elementary age children’s challenges and opportunities for success through bell time changes as well.
    Instead of pushing to quickly implement a dramatic system change with good intentions, but more negative than positive ramifications (done to fit into busing availability without additional costs) let’s try to make it great even if takes time and extra costs need to be incurred. We know that Seattlites are willing to put money towards education, so give us a solution we can all stand behind.
    The system is not fatally broken. In fact, with the recent changes to teachers contracts we’re on the up and up. If we’re going to alter the system, let’s do it right and with community support bring SPS to the forefront of educational change in a positive way.
    Okay~ I’m finally done!!!

  • bsmomma September 30, 2015 (12:06 pm)

    I understand science and studies. But how about finances….. I work my tail off as it is now to make ends meat. I am lucky enough to have hours that allow me to pick up after school as the time stands and a family member helps in the morning. I cannot afford after school care and do not qualify for assistance. Plus, have you tried to get in to an after school program? Most are always full and most you still have to get your kid there! My daughter is to young to walk home and be there for an hour until I get home. And a 4:10 release time for Madison?! That just seems crazy. I already sent off my e-mail to voice that! :)

  • Apey September 30, 2015 (12:28 pm)

    If you have concerns about the proposed bell times, please do not sit silently. I urge you to send an email to the district at and let them know how you feel.

  • wow September 30, 2015 (2:54 pm)

    Reading this makes for excellent birth control. I am in awe of the people who can juggle all this while both parents work full time (a necessity for most with housing costs the way they are).

  • Nils Kryger September 30, 2015 (2:59 pm)

    If there’s the slightest chance of screwing something up, Pegi McEvoy will find a way to screw it up.

  • FJ September 30, 2015 (3:01 pm)

    The start times have been working fine for a hundred years, why change it now?

  • brandon September 30, 2015 (4:11 pm)

    Relax people. SPS totally knows what’s best for your child.

  • Alex September 30, 2015 (8:25 pm)

    I went to the meeting last night, and it was such a farce. SPS distributed a very leading survey–they knew they wanted to change the bell times all along–and made a HUGE decision to make this change, based on a very small sample size, and there are SO many details yet to be worked out.

    I agree 100% with EG: The Proposed Bell Times were selected based on busing, not on optimum start times. The Task Force was given constraints that any change in times considered had to be a NET ZERO cost to SPS.

    A later start time might be best for high schoolers, but there is no evidence that starting earlier is better for elementary school students, and the 9:40 am start time for middle school is ridiculous. What about little kids? They need their sleep too. What about high schoolers and middle schoolers who need time after school tutoring and extra curricular activities, like sports. None of this has been figured out yet, but the district is barreling ahead with this plan, FOR NEXT YEAR, as if all of the details will work themselves out. I think it’s insane.

  • Lynn September 30, 2015 (8:52 pm)

    This is a not a rushed change. The district has been discussing it for years and has put quite a bit more time into surveys and meetings and planning this year than I thought was necessary. The science says high school students should start school later and that elementary age children experience their best learning at an hour earlier than many of their schools start now.

    Our school schedule must be arranged to give the most children the best opportunity for success. If extracurricular activities must be scheduled before school, students can choose to participate or choose to sleep later. We cannot continue to deprive every student of adequate sleep to facilitate extracurricular activities for a few students.

    Yes, a 9:00 start for middle school would be better. Who is willing to fund that? We’d need to pay the bus company enough money to cover hiring more drivers (hard to find) and buying more buses.

    Many elementary parents are already paying for both before and after school care. This change will mean many need only after school care.

    As for Denny Middle School’s after school support program, they can offer it before school. The elementary schools scheduled for the latest start are our poorest. I believe they will move their current academic supports to the before-school time too – allowing their families a longer day without the need to pay for care.

  • Elly October 1, 2015 (6:08 am)

    RC, my 2 and 4 year olds have to get up at 5:30 anyway which is the same as most people many also have small children I work with because we have to be at work at 7:30. We dont like it but it fits my work schedule. Please think outside your own life before making sweeping statements. Also, the bus and cicadium rythyms concepts are both real issues and I’m glad they are finally acting on both (this is not a new issue people). Agree with comment above regarding space program, thanks for the laugh this morning.

  • Bonnie October 1, 2015 (8:26 am)

    Suggesting that sports and academic programs be held BEFORE school defeats the purpose of the late start time, doesn’t it?

  • maplesyrup October 1, 2015 (8:47 am)

    3 things come to mind:

    Challenging the AAP’s findings because they don’t fit a personal schedule reminds me a bit of climate change deniers. We shouldn’t always take everything at face value but if it’s tha AAP against some random parents at a meeting, I’m going with the AAP. Similarly, just because back in your day “it was the way it was and we liked it” doesn’t mean it was correct. New information prompts and sometimes forces society to change and evolve. Get used to it.

    Second, whether you agree with the changes or not, let’s keep in mind that the goal here is education and not child care. This may be an unpopular opinion and come across as a bit harsh, but I’m fairly unsympathetic to arguments that people will have to adjust their work schedules or whatever. The most important aspect to all of this is what is the most conducive schedule for learning and academic achievement. And sorry, I don’t think all kids should be put at a disadvantage because other people’s schedules dictate that they get their kids to school an hour earlier or later due to child care issues.

    Finally, while it’s good that the district is FINALLY addressing this issue, they’re doing it in the standard manipulative and ham-handed fashion we’ve come to know all these years. Great, have high schools start later. But 2 hours later for middle schools? I’d love to be in the meeting where they decided this was a reasonable solution. I can see why Jeff Clark and some of the parents are upset by that proposal.

  • j October 1, 2015 (9:54 am)

    Wonder how much more King County Police helicopter will be keeping people awake chasing high school kids around all night long?
    Bed at 1am with 8 hrs of sleep. Oh boy.

  • Margo October 1, 2015 (10:08 am)

    I like the proposed changes. I’ve noticed major changes in my middle schooler – he doesn’t get up nearly as early as he used to, and it is more difficult to get him to sleep at night. Not to mention that getting out at 2:20 p.m. means 4 hours of time on his own – not a lot of afterschool places for this age.

    Plus, I don’t know about everyone else, but with commutes, and work times, my family doesn’t get to eating dinner until 7 or 7:30 p.m. With early elementary start times, and the need for 10-11 hours of sleep, that would mean no family time in the evening if they have to be asleep by 8 to do that. We can’t be the only working family that doesn’t get home at 5 p.m.

    Anyway, I’m only one person, but I thought a positive voice would be nice to hear.

  • rc October 1, 2015 (10:14 am)

    With all do respect, your children aren’t yet in the public school system so your say on this matter is minimal. It’s not realistic to compare the needs of 2-4 year olds to elementary kiddos where are 11 years old by the time they graduate to middle school. I agree that it’s tough working and having toddlers. Yes it’s true, lots of parents including myself when my kids were younger, regularly get their preschool age kids up at 5:30 to start the day. And it doesn’t seem all that unreasonable. They’re wired to get up early, and go to bed early. We drive them to daycare/ preschool with the promise of snacks, a mid-day nap and lots of love and play time. At the end of the day, we pick them up tired and always homework free. As the AAP’s findings support, as they grow, their rhythms change. The AAP’s findings are currently specific to adolescents. (which I’m thankful for and obviously fully support) That said, I’m confident if research was broadened to include ALL school age children, they also would NOT support a 7:00 start time for elementary school kids(which GAnative suggested) or for any school age child.

  • Alex October 1, 2015 (11:00 am)

    I cannot understand why anyone is suggesting that extra-curricular activities (sports, tutoring, band, clubs) for high school and middle school kids be moved before school. Does that not defeat the whole purpose of the later start time? It’s go to be the minority of HS kids that don’t participate in any extra-curricular activities. If most kids wake up to come to school early, what exactly is the point of changing the bell times?

    Even if this change is good for HS students from a learning standpoint (and I think they’re still going to be tired at 8:35), shouldn’t we think a lot more about potential negative impacts on elementary and middle school kids before this is implemented?

  • Lynn October 1, 2015 (12:30 pm)


    High Schools would start at 8:50, not 8:35.

    What is your evidence that the majority of middle and high school students participate in extra-curricular activities? Scheduling those before school allows students who would prefer being well-rested to choose that. The current schedule ensures all children are sleep-deprived to allow some children to choose to participate in after-school activities.

    Here are the number of students participating in sports in 2013/14:

    High School Athletics
    •Fall 2445
    •Winter 1694
    •Spring 2627

    Middle School Intermural
    •Fall 1089
    •Winter 381
    •Spring 1174

    When do clubs meet at your child’s high school? At ours they meet during lunch. Tutoring takes place during the school day and band is a class that meets during the day also.

    Do you believe a 7:50 start time is healthier for middle school students than a 9:40 start?

  • Bonnie October 1, 2015 (2:17 pm)

    at our middle school there is tutoring almost every afternoon from 2:20 to 4:20 (or 2:30 to 4:30) It doesn’t happen at lunch and kids won’t go in early for tutoring if they are supposed to be sleeping in until 9am!

  • Lynn October 1, 2015 (2:50 pm)


    If your middle school student is currently at school from 7:50 until 4:20, I don’t see how this change would affect their schedule. You could choose to send him or her early for tutoring if you like or keep them home a few days a week to sleep later.

  • cliows October 1, 2015 (6:14 pm)

    as my child became a teenager I could not believe how much difficulty he had waking up so early. It seems so counter intuitive that young children who are up at the crack of dawn started school so late, and teenagers were forced to start so early.

  • Parent teacher October 1, 2015 (10:55 pm)

    While I do understand the need for older children to have adjusted sleep schedules, I think this plan fails to consider working families and families at the poverty line. Some people cannot flex their schedules. The idea of leaving middle school students to fend for themselves in the morning will increase absenteeism and continue to increase the district problem of dispropotionality. This bell schedule will work fine for upper income families who have one parent at home, or the ability to flex their schedules. Working families and families in crisis will continue to pay. Child care for middle school students is not so readily available, and out of school programs do not begin until a month into the school year. As a teacher I get the argument that we are not child care, however we need to stand behind the families who have less of a voice in the district. At some point as a human being we also have to recognize that to get more sleep we must go to bed earlier. Before you say I don’t understand adolescent needs, I am the parent of a middle school student. Please consider those of us who can’t flex our schedules, and the safety of our students.

  • Lynn October 2, 2015 (12:17 pm)

    Parent teacher,

    What are middle school families who cannot flex their schedules now doing with their kids from 2:20 until 5:30 or 6 when the parents return from work? What are working parents of elementary school students whose schools don’t start until 9:40 doing for morning child care?

    If you think going to bed earlier will result in teenagers with a 7:50 school start getting enough sleep, you do not understand the science behind these recommendations.

  • don't understand October 2, 2015 (4:46 pm)

    Parents at SPS have been receiving updates and information for well over a year about the bell times changing. They have asked us to fill out surveys, attend meetings, etc. I try to stay informed and it always cracks me up how parents wait until the last minute to raise their concerns. When you have an opinion about something that is happening with SPS, get involved early, give your opinion early, and don’t wait until they have made a decision to complain.

  • Parent teacher October 2, 2015 (6:08 pm)

    I do understand the science. I agree it is difficult to wake up teenagers. What happens to those difficult to wake up teenagers when they are still in bed while their parents are at work? What about kids that would rather not attend who don’t have their parents to drive them, or make sure they get on the bus? Between 2:30 and 6:00 those students are most likely in out of school time programs run by the school, or at home by themselves. They have already attended school that day. Child care options are more limited for middle to high school students, if the child care is not available after school it is unlikely it will be made available before school. As mentioned by I believe Bonnie, moving after school programs to before school defeats the whole purpose of the later start time. This later start time only benefits students who have someone at home to get them to school. My child is very responsible, however I can easily see them not getting up in time without one of their parents to prod them repeatedly. If this start time change is made we will see a rise in tardiness and absenteeism. Why enact a change that will benefit only a small portion of our students and be a detriment to working families and at risk students?

  • diane October 2, 2015 (9:23 pm)

    I agree with Margo! I too have a child new to middle school and he also has been having a harder time getting up so early in the mornings now: 6:30 wake-up to get to first bell before 7:50. He just needs more sleep now and no he won’t go to sleep at 8-8:30 anymore. He also is at home by himself before we get home from work for up to 3 hours. Elementary school had a great onsite after school program. Not so easy for middle school. I would love to see a later start time!

  • Tomas October 6, 2015 (8:53 am)

    9:40 in the morning for Elementary school? It just makes no sense, no parent starts their work day at 10/10:30am

    My child will be up at 7:00am regardless of what time school starts because we need to be out the door by 7:30 so the parents can get to work, that just means more time in before school care – and more pressure on before school programs that are already on waitlists.

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