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Philly backtracks on planned 9 a.m. high school start time

Student walks down a hallway at Crispus Attucks High School.

Philadelphia will not move its start time for high schools to 9 a.m. next year, as previously announced.

Philadelphia has reversed its decision earlier this year to move the starting time for high schools  to 9 a.m. next school year, citing the need for “stability” and a shortage of bus drivers.

“Our initial plan for the 2022-2023 school year was for all 56 District high schools and middle/high schools to shift to a 9 a.m. bell schedule,” Superintendent William Hite wrote in a Wednesday letter to students, parents, and staff. “However, like school districts across the country, we continue to wrestle with ongoing bus driver shortages, and are unable to equitably support the shift for all 56 schools.”

The district announced in March that it would move the start time for high schools to 9 a.m. in the upcoming year. The change would have meant a later start time by as much as 90 minutes at some schools. 

In explaining the reversal, Hite said that school communities “are still working hard to reclaim a sense of familiarity and stability” due to extended school building closures during an “ever-changing” pandemic” and are dealing with “many other traumas locally, nationally and globally. Postponing this change in bell schedules is the caring thing to do at this time.”

Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics showing that teenagers in particular benefit from more sleep was a key factor in the district’s push to move back the start of school days at high schools. The district also said in March that the change would make it safer for students traveling to and from schools.

In his Wednesday letter, Hite said that district leaders “remain fully committed to our ultimate goal of shifting all of our high schools and middle/high schools to start times” that match the academy’s findings and recommendations. 

In addition, making start times more uniform would reduce the amount of time that students spend on buses.

However, pushing back the starting time for high schools  would have extended the school day until 4 p.m., leading to later start times for sports and other extracurricular activities. In addition, the move would have affected students who have after-school jobs. Ultimately, more students would have had to travel home after dark.

As for the bus driver shortage, Hite said that the problem is nationwide and due in part to the pandemic.

Hite said the district’s goal is to shift these schools to later start times for the 2023-24 school year. However, Hite is resigning from his position next month, when Tony Watlington is due to take over as the district’s superintendent.

The starting time of 9 a.m. would have gone into effect for all but four district high schools next year.

In 2021, the district had moved to standardize what was then more than 40 different start times for its 219 schools to three: 7:30 a.m., 8:15 a.m., and 9 a.m. As a result, many high school start times were moved up to 7:30 a.m.

Dale Mezzacappa is a senior writer for Chalkbeat Philadelphia, where she covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. Contact Dale at dmezzacappa@chalkbeat.org.

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