Sammamish parents, students, and educators have mixed reactions to a districtwide change. In an effort to increase sleeping hours for high school students, Lake Washington School District (LWSD) is adjusting school start times for the 2023-24 school year across all grade levels.
The length of the school day will remain the same, but almost all middle school start times will be moved 35 minutes earlier, to 7:50 a.m., and most high school start times are getting pushed back an hour to 8:30 a.m.
Less than half of LWSD elementary schools were impacted, with some starting up to 40 minutes earlier or 30 minutes later. Preschools are expected to begin an hour and 20 minutes earlier, at 8:40 a.m. for the morning cohort and 12:10 p.m. for the afternoon cohort.
The new schedule was recommended by the 2022 Start Time Committee, a group comprised of LWSD parents and staff. The committee was formed to address the growing body of research that shows that early start times are detrimental to students’ health and wellbeing.
The committee considered a variety of factors when crafting the new schedule, including district transportation. LWSD staggers start times to share buses and drivers between elementary, middle, and high schools, so grade levels cannot start or end too close together.
“Basically it is a giant puzzle,” Scott Beebe, LWSD’s deputy superintendent of student, school, and instructional services. said. “A change in any [grade level’s start time] causes intended and unintended consequences on the others.”
Extracurricular activities were another factor in designing the new schedule.
“The later you end high school, the harder it is to coordinate after-school activities,” said Beebe.
He explained that high school athletic teams compete against schools in other districts. Because inter-district events are often held after school, LWSD needed to ensure high schools would end in time to participate in these competitions.
LWSD also adjusted the preschool schedule with the aim of dismissing earlier for both the morning and afternoon cohort.
“We were the latest dismissing preschool in the region, which was causing issues for our littlest learners,” said Beebe.
Public reaction to the change has been mixed, with students and parents divided on its benefits and drawbacks.
Grace Zhao, a sophomore at Tesla STEM High School, has been struggling to stay awake in class and is optimistic about the new schedule.
“Since I’ll be able to get around 30 more minutes of extra sleeping time, I think that I’ll be able to focus better in class, which will hopefully lead to improved grades and testing results,” Zhao said.
Saranya Agrawal, a freshman at Eastlake High School, is concerned about a later dismissal pushing her after-school activities later into the evening.
“I do fall sports, and next year I’m planning on doing a spring sport. So [the change is] a little problematic, considering the fact that I’d be getting home when it’s sundown,” Agrawal said.
Middle school students have raised concerns about the new start time. As their extracurricular schedules grow, they are forced to go to bed later, encountering the same problems high school students currently face.
“[The earlier start] for middle school …reduces [sleep] time further, pushing some students’ schedules to the absolute limit,” said York Xia, a seventh-grader at Evergreen Middle School.
Parents also expressed their worries regarding the change, as they may need to adjust their schedules to accommodate their children’s needs.
Anamika Pattnaik, a Samantha Smith Elementary School parent, said the new start time will conflict with her family’s work schedule.
“In my family, as both parents are working, our daily routine starts after kids go to school,” she said. “Now if the time is pushed back, by the time my elementary kid is ready for school, we would already have office work/meetings started.”
Teachers are also concerned about the effects of the changes on their own lives. Since many teachers live further from school than their students do, their commutes are more likely to be impacted.
“[T]he later the start, the more difficult my commute will be,” said Jay Tully, a PE teacher and football coach at Eastlake High School.
The later end time could also affect teachers’ home lives.
“Sports practices will most likely be moved back an hour, which for me may be difficult because I have a one-year-old son and his bedtime is 7:30 p.m.,” Tully said. “I’m worried I won’t make it home in time to see him in the evenings.”
LWSD will continue monitoring the effects of the change and may make adjustments based on engagement with parents and the community, as well as benchmarks like attendance and achievement data.
“There wasn’t a perfect solution. This isn’t a perfect solution,” Beebe said. “But that wasn’t enough of a reason not to make the change.”