In Nod to Teen Sleep, Seattle Changes High School Start Times


This week, the Seattle School Board voted to move most school start times to 8:30 a.m. so that students may sleep later.

Rebecca Klein, writing for The Huffington Post, says the vote makes Seattle one of the largest districts in the country to change school starting times based on research that shows teenagers enhance their learning and health by getting extra sleep.

The board’s vice-president, Sharon Peaslee, told King 5 News that she hoped the decision will set a precedent for other districts because shifting bell time is important for students’ wellbeing. Seattle city high schools will start at 8:45 a.m. in the 2016-2017 school year. Most of the district’s middle and K-8 schools will begin at that same time. The remaining schools will commence at 7:55 a.m. or 9:35 a.m.

The recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that school days begin after 8:30 a.m. so that teens are encouraged to get eight and a half or nine and a half hours of sleep each night. The CDC reported recently that less than a third of high school students sleep eight hours a night. And the average starting time for middle and high schools nationwide is 8:03 a.m., according to July data from the CDC.

Seattle parent Laura Burke said:

“Right now, it’s awful. Our kids are awake for two hours, fresh, ready to go to school. And then they’re tired for the last two hours they’re at school. They’re also getting out at almost four o’clock. In the winter, it’s dark.”

Natalie Brand of King 5 News reports that the Board has been studying the issue of school start times for years. She also noted that the pediatric community was thrilled with the proposal and sleep doctors who attended the meeting said later start times will be very beneficial for teen students.

KOMO News quoted Jonathan Knapp, president of the Seattle Education Association:

“It’s a good compromise. With this, more than 83% of Seattle school children’s academic work will now be better aligned with their sleep need.”

But some parents and opponents of the change say the move does not take into consideration the needs of every child. Caren Towne says the proposal is not a win unless it is the best learning start time for all the kids in the district. The district has staggered the start times because of transportation resources and costs.

The Sleep Foundation website offers some insight into the later start times debate. It says that changing a school’s start time has an effect on a vast array of people. The change will affect the bell schedules for elementary and middle schools as well as transportation, athletic programs, and after-school extracurricular activities.

Other issues to include in the discussion are after school student employment and younger students who may be waiting for a bus in the dark or who need the supervision of older siblings after school. Regular family activities and requirements could be disturbed, like transportation, dependence on a teen’s income, chores, and other family responsibilities.

But adolescents today face a growing chronic health problem: sleep deprivation. The proper amount of sleep is just as important as eating well and exercising.

Mary A. Carskadon, Ph.D., Director of E.P. Bradley Hospital Research Laboratory and professor in Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University School of Medicine, says:

“Given that the primary focus of education is to maximize human potential, then a new task before us is to ensure that the conditions in which learning takes place address the very biology of our learners.”