Bell times changing for most Seattle public schools

SEATTLE -- The back-to-school countdown is in full swing but this fall sisters Josie and Mila will have to get to Sand Point School about an hour and half earlier in the mornings than last year.

“We used to start at 9:25, our new bell time is 7:50,” parent Chandra Hampson said.

The bell time changes are affecting more than 50,000 Seattle public school students and their families.

“I definitely share that pain; I am a parent as well of elementary school children,” said Dr. Maida Chen, director of the Pediatric Sleep Center and attending physician at Seattle Children’s Hospital in the Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine Division and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Chen said there’s a medical benefit to the changing start times. While elementary kids start earlier, middle and high schoolers will start classes later, with high schoolers starting at 8:45 am.

“It definitely helps their health, their overall academic outcomes, their school attendance and decrease tardiness,” Chen said.

Doctors say science shows older kids function better at school if they start later. But for many elementary school kids, the normal chaos in the morning might get a little bit more challenging.

“Kids don’t really have time to eat, anyone with children knows it takes a long time to get them going in the morning,” Hampson said.

That’s why Sand Point School will now provide breakfast after the bell, meaning every student will receive food in the morning.

In the afternoon, parents will get help with child care from the YMCA

“We are going to make sure they have quality aftercare and that they are safe,” Hampson said.

Hampson, who is on the PTA, said her community rallied together especially with low-income families having trouble finding after-school care.

Hampson and other parents had to raise funds and apply for grants to qualify to get money for the breakfast and after-school program. Hampson said the YMCA is also helping with the fundraising.

When school starts, YMCA employees will come to Sand Point to watch the kids until 6 p.m. Hampson says individual schools can also rally to get similar programs.

Hampson is encouraging other parents from other schools to reach out to her or the Sand Point PTA to help guide parents through the process.

“Not all schools are starting at the same time so that puts the community as a whole at a little bit of a disadvantage,” Hampson said.

Although high schools are starting at the same time, elementary schools vary in start times. Hampson said with kids getting out earlier, parents have to hustle to find extra after-school care.

Despite the inconvenience, Hampson said, the bell time changes are necessary.

“It’s definitely a positive change,” Hampson said.

With school starting Sept. 7,  Chen says parents need to plan now.

“Almost doing a dry run of how long it actually takes them to get out of the door, what traffic looks like at that time of day of getting to school,” Chen said.

Chen added that parents should start getting kids back to a good sleeping schedule.

Teenagers need 8 to 9 hours of sleep, elementary school kids need 11 to 12 hours at night, officials say.

Seattle Public Schools says they sent letters to parents in six different languages hoping to alert parents about the new bell times.

For more information here are some links.