District considers later school start times; community survey expected next week

The Edmonds School District is considering later start times, following a series of studies showing that adolescents who start school later perform better in school and have fewer behavioral problems.

These studies, including one by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show that later school start times allow teens to work at their most alert. A study by St. Lawrence University has shown that later start times lead to improvement in teen behavior at school.

Several school districts nearby, including the Seattle School District, have implemented later start times.

It’s something the Edmonds School District has looked at before, according to district spokeswoman Debbie Jakala. She said later start times were discussed as early as 2007, when the district had a Citizens Planning Committee. Parents call the district every year asking why they haven’t shifted start times, she added.

The challenge, however, is that adjusting bell times would not just affect students at school—it also affects transportation, food service and athletics. The district would also need to change start times for middle and elementary schools to make the pieces fit together.

“You can’t just change high school times without impacting the whole system,” Jakala said. “There are dollars associated with accomplishing that.”

To sort through the impacts, a High School Start Times Committee for the Edmonds School District began meeting in October 2016 in an effort to determine a few options that may work for the district.

After its meeting on Jan. 26, the task force came up with four viable options. The next step is to get feedback from the community—including both Edmonds School District families and taxpayers who may not have kids in the district—through an online survey

Depending on the results of the survey and the next steps taken by the High School Start Times Committee, changes could be implemented as early as next school year, although it could take several years if an option with financial impacts is selected.

The first option has the biggest financial impact. It would shift high school start times to 8 a.m., 40 minutes later than the current 7:20 a.m. Middle schools would shift by 15 minutes to 8:15 a.m. Elementary schools would not be impacted.

In order to accomplish this, the district would need to spend $4 million on 25 additional large buses and 13 additional small buses. There are currently 162 school buses in the district’s fleet. However, there would not be an impact to food services or student athletes.

The second option would shift the entire system by 25 minutes – including high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. Middle schools and elementary schools would have two different start times, 8:15 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. for middle schools, and 9:05 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. for elementary schools. A full list of which schools would start at which times will be available in the upcoming community survey.

This option would not impact transportation. The only major change would be that food service employees would work later shifts. There would be no impact to student athletes.

The third option would shift start times to 8:25 a.m. for high schools and 9:45 a.m. for middle schools, with elementary schools split between a 7:45 a.m. start and a 9:05 a.m. start. Again, which schools will start at each time will be detailed in an upcoming survey.

This option would have the biggest impact on student athletes who would have to miss more class time to compete in away games. Coaches who also teach would also need to leave their classrooms for longer periods of time, which means the district is looking at about a $15,000-$25,000 investment for substitute teachers.

The fourth option is not to adjust bell times at all.

A full survey is expected to be released in the coming week, and is expected to be open for at least two weeks so that community members can respond. The survey will be available in five languages.

–By Natalie Covate

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