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Seattle Public Schools proposes changing class start times due to bus driver shortage

SPS says if they have three different start times in between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., that would allow bus drivers to drive more routes.

SEATTLE — Seattle Public Schools is considering staggering school start times in response to a shortage of bus drivers.

Some students could begin school as early as 7:30 a.m. with others as late as 9:30 a.m. 

The switch would allow bus drivers to drive more kids to school, but it could also make transportation harder for some parents.

Launch provides early childhood learning and school-age childcare after school. The nonprofit has been in the Seattle community for 45 years, targeting its service to kids who are furthest away from educational justice.

Like so many childcare providers, Launch has dealt with staffing shortages and other pandemic-related challenges. Now, Seattle Public Schools' newly proposed schedule is another source of concern, according to CEO Angela Griffin.

"The majority of families we are hearing from are the 9:30 a.m. start time families," said Griffin.

The district is recommending moving from the current two-tier bell time schedule to a three-tier system for next school year, with some students going from 7:30 a.m. until 2 p.m., some from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., and the third group attending class from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. A draft plan breaks down the proposed schedule for each school. 

The different start times would mean bus drivers could drive more routes, something the district wants due to a nationwide bus driver shortage. 

Last year, in Massachusetts, the governor activated the National Guard for assistance with school transportation

Last month, the Mount Adams School District in Eastern Washington announced that they had to pivot to virtual learning for one day because of the bus driver shortage.

As for possible reasons for the bus driver shortage, a survey released in August of 2021 found that staffing has been a long-time problem that was made worse by the pandemic with factors such as the rate of pay making it difficult to recruit and retain employees.

In a statement, SPS said the district "cannot provide safe, reliable, on-time transportation services using the two-tier bell model."

"We definitely need to find some additional solutions that we believe exist in the community right now," said Griffin.

Launch is part of a coalition of childcare providers who sent a letter to school leaders saying they are disappointed in the proposal and want the district to reconsider.

If the proposal is approved, Griffin said she knows it would be a hurdle for some working families, and currently, she does not have enough resources to expand her services.

"It has been very hard to find staff just for afterschool care so we don't know where we will find staff for the morning care," she said.

School leaders are expected to vote on the proposal on May 18. There is an online form where the public can submit their thoughts and question on this proposal before the vote.


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