Federal Way schools to change bell schedule next school year

Due to a bus driver shortage across the Federal Way school district, students will be starting and ending school at different times come September.

Of the 8,000 students who take the bus each day, an average of 420 are impacted by uncovered routes and late buses each day, Deputy Superintendent Dani Pfeiffer recently reported to the school board.

To mitigate this, the district is changing the times certain elementary schools start and end, with some starting earlier and others starting and ending later. Other school districts also employ this practice. The Kent School District has 14 different start and end times.

This shift will cause half the elementary students and all middle and high school students in the 2017-18 school year to start school 10 minutes earlier. Half of the elementary schools, however, will go to a late-bell schedule.

Enterprise, Green Gables, Lake Dolloff, Lake Grove, Meredith Hill, Olympic View, Panther Lake, Rainier View, Sunnycrest and Valhalla will start at 9:10 a.m. and release at 3:40 p.m., while the other elementary schools will start at 8:35 a.m. and release at 3:05 p.m. Middle schools, except for Sacajawea, which will start at 8 a.m. and release at 2:30 p.m., while most high schools will start at 7:25 a.m. and get out at 1:55 p.m.

A complete list of start and end times for each school can be found here: www.fwps.org/Page/4787.

In an email, district spokeswoman Kassie Swenson said officials decided which schools should have late starts by considering how best to maximize resources, including drivers and buses, for students to arrive to and from school on time. They also factored in geographical locations of the routes. To limit the number of walkers, elementary schools with the largest number of bus riders were selected as “late schools.”

Michelle Turner, district director of transportation, said with the district’s population growth, the number of students riding the bus each year has increased about 1 percent.

“We’re late two to three times a week, and we’re running about 20 minutes late, which is impacting goal 2, being in the classroom on time for our scholars, and it’s also impacting the breakfasts,” Turner said.

As part of the district’s strategic plan, every school is required to adopt goal 2 – Whole child: thriving, confident, responsible individuals.

Turner said, of the 112 bus drivers and six substitutes, about 10 are absent daily, resulting in increased overtime and falling behind on fleet maintenance. The new schedule will ensure each bus driver has 20 hours of work per week, the minimum number required to receive benefits, and will make the district a more desirable place to work.

A sub-committee received principal feedback about the schedule change before presenting a revised plan to parents and community members for input.

Some parents were initially concerned with how they would provide childcare at the late-dismissal elementary schools; how those late releases would impact participation in after-school activities; how they would cut into family time; and how the dark winter hours would impact students who walked home from school.

To accommodate parents, the school district will offer a “morning extended learning opportunity” for late-start elementary students and work with community athletic and activity programs to ensure those pupils receive the same opportunities as children in other schools.

For more information, visit the district’s Frequently Asked Questions page on a four-bell schedule at www.fwps.org/Page/4802.