New Bell Times for Seattle Public Schools Pose Challenge to Families

by Erin Okuno

Set your alarm clocks! Seattle Public Schools start and end times are changing for this coming school year.

Elementary schools in Southeast Seattle will start at 7:55 a.m. Students may arrive at 7:40 and dismissal is at 2:05 p.m. Middle and high school students will start school at 8:45 a.m. They may arrive as early as 8:30 and dismissal is at 3:15 p.m. Orca K-8 students have the latest bell time, starting at 9:35 a.m. with dismissal at 4:05 p.m.

Moms Rising Final

The school board adopted these new bell times last year after a task force weighed pros and cons of the proposal. The Bell Times Task Force looked at how shifting start times would impact children’s and teens’ sleep patterns, safety, daylight/darkness hours, sports schedules, transportation and bus services, child care, and other facets touching upon changing school times.

Many families are bracing for the new start times. Elementary school students will start earlier, in some cases two hours earlier for schools moving from late start (approximately 9:30 a.m.) to the earliest tier of start times at 7:55 a.m. Many elementary school families are figuring out how to manage early morning hours and school drop off as well as being out of school at an earlier time.

Idil Danan, a Somali mother who lives in New Holly, is frustrated with figuring out how to get her children to school. Three of her children attend Graham Hill Elementary and her youngest will start Kindergarten at Van Asselt. Danan tried to have all of her children at Graham Hill, but missed open enrollment and is now number 14 on the Graham Hill waitlist and unlikely to get in. She feels she is left with little choice about school assignments. With both schools now having the same 7:55 start time she’s reaching out to other parents to see how they can support each other. Danan is also working to get the message that times are changing out to her Somali and East African community.

Middle and high school students will start school later. Sleep experts agree allowing teenagers to sleep in later aligns with their circadian sleep rhythms. Middle and high school students will start school at 8:45 a.m. and get out of school at 3:15 p.m. For families that used to rely upon older students watching younger elementary school students after school, this will no longer be possible. High school students who used to work afterschool jobs will also need to adjust to having fewer afternoon hours to work.  On the positive side, teachers may see fewer sleepy eyed students in first period.

As a community we will need to come together to support families through these time changes. I’ve seen families post messages online asking each other what they will do around child care and school drop off. We need to support families in coming up with multiple child care backup plans in the first few weeks of school as families adjust to the change.

At the Rainier Beach Action Coalition’s Back 2 School Bash the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition shared information about the upcoming bell times shift.  And while many families knew about the time changes, they also talked to many families who didn’t know – for them, the fair was the first time they heard about the change. We collectively need to keep sharing the messages that times are shifting.

Please share the message of the upcoming school time changes with families and ask if they need help understanding the new start and end times. Print out this information and share it with neighbors. Talk to educators and school district representatives to share stories of how the change is impacting your family. It will take some time to work out the complexities of such as a massive time shift but the more we share the easier it will be for students and families.

A special thank you to MomsRising.org for helping to get the word out to families.

All school start times can be found here: http://www.seattleschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/District/Departments/belltimes/2016-17_belltimes.pdf

Erin Okuno is the Executive Director of Southeast Seattle Education Coalition and is a Seattle Public Schools parent. 

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