School Start Times: When Should the Bells Ring?

The Triangle’s public school systems generally operate on three schedules, or tiers.


Published:

An Nguyen/Shutterstock photo

As summer wanes, Triangle families prepare for more regularly scheduled days — organized by alarm clocks and bus stops, homework and after-school activities, packed-up lunchboxes and signed agendas. For some students, depending on when their morning bell rings, heading back to school can bring about a marked change in sleep routines as well.

School bell schedules are a hotly debated issue because they affect everything from parents’ work schedules to whether teachers and teens can squeeze in after-school jobs. Given that schools’ primary purpose is to provide students with a sound educational experience, the role bell schedules play in student performance and achievement is also receiving increasing attention.

Bell Schedules Vary Across the Triangle

The Triangle’s public school systems generally operate on three schedules, or tiers. In the Wake County Public School System, high schools start first, usually at 7:25 a.m., followed by middle schools and then elementary schools, the latest of which start at 9:15 a.m. In other Triangle school systems — Durham Public Schools, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Orange County Schools — that schedule is basically flipped, with elementary schools starting first, usually by 8 a.m., and high schools starting closer to 9 a.m.

WCPSS Chief Communications Officer Tim Simmons notes that “many issues are considered” in establishing bell schedules for WCPSS schools, “but the biggest ones are available bus drivers, the school choices made by parents and the traffic patterns. All three have significant effects on routes and logistics.”

In WCPSS, nearly 50 percent of students ride the bus daily — but the bell schedules built around bus riders are not always a perfect fit.

Julie Ridenour’s daughter attends Farmington Woods Elementary in Cary, a WCPSS school that starts at 9:15 a.m. She says the late start time can be “a real problem for working parents. Finding quality before-school care is a huge issue.”

Michelle Weeks, whose daughter attends OCS’s Orange High School, says, “Starting later is nice, but getting out at 4 p.m. has a few disadvantages, especially if you participate in sports and practice isn’t over until 6 or 7. It can make for some late nights.”

School, Sleep and Teens

As it turns out, teens are biologically programmed for late nights. Early mornings are the problem.

Research has shown that hormonal changes cause a shift in teens’ natural sleep-wake cycle, turning early risers into night owls beginning around age 13. Add to that teens’ busier schedules, homework load and frequent use of sleep-killing electronic media, and the result is a national trend of sleep deprivation — a finding that in 2014 spurred the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue a policy statement recommending middle and high schools delay the start of class until 8:30 a.m. or later to help teens get their recommended nine hours of sleep.

Karen Shore, whose son attends WCPSS’s Holly Springs High School, which starts at 7:25 a.m., says he doesn’t get “remotely enough sleep. It affects his mood, his concentration. If he sits down for more than five minutes without a task, he falls asleep. I worry about him driving.”

Such concerns moved DPS officials to change their bell schedule for the 2016-17 school year, bumping most high schools to later start times and spreading elementary schools across all three tiers.

G. Scott Denton, DPS’s assistant superintendent for auxiliary services, says administrators had to consider the impact on before- and after-school programs, athletics and teachers’ professional development. Also, as DPS offers universal free breakfast, buses must arrive in time for students to eat before class begins.

“It was like putting a puzzle together — and some of the pieces weren’t labeled,” he says, noting there was also no increase in their budget. “But it came together pretty smoothly in the end.”

For Jennifer Shrewsbury, whose son attends Durham School of the Arts, which has a 9:15 a.m. start time, the trade-offs have been generally positive.

“I like being able to spend more time with him later in the evenings when things have quieted down without worrying he is staying up too late,” she says. “For us, the later start time has been a positive experience.”

In CHCCS and OCS, which are significantly smaller school systems than DPS, high schools have started closer to 9 a.m. for years. Some students and families in WCPSS, the state’s largest school system, are hoping for a similar change.

“I have worked in a school system where the school day started at 7:30. There was a high level of tardies for first-period classes. I think starting later is beneficial.” — Jessica Harris, a counselor at East Chapel Hill High School

Weighing Options

Apex Friendship High School junior Nylah Robinson and her classmates focused on the issue of school start times last year for a group research project because they felt it was important to their community. The group’s resulting petition made the local news.

“Talking to other students and parents, we found they felt the same way,” she says.

Interestingly, WCPSS was the site for a study on how start time affects student achievement by Colby College researcher Finley Edwards. His May 2012 analysis, “Do Schools Begin Too Early?” suggests that delaying the start of middle school by one hour — from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. — results in measurable gains on standardized math and reading tests, particularly for students scoring in the bottom third. Finley also found later start times are associated with reduced TV viewing, increased time spent on homework and 25 percent fewer absences.

Jessica Harris, a counselor at CHCCS’s East Chapel Hill High School, says she has witnessed a similar connection.

“I have worked in a school system where the school day started at 7:30. There was a high level of tardies for first-period classes,” she says. “I think starting later is beneficial.”

However, for WCPPS, the logistics of such a shift for its 177 schools have proven too costly in past analyses. In 2016, school spokesperson Lisa Luten estimated the additional buses and drivers necessary to change the school system’s three-tiered schedule would cost $100 million—money that, with budgets as tight as ever, is not likely to be approved.

“The state considers Wake’s bus transportation system to be quite efficient,” Simmons says. “There are no financial incentives built into the state’s funding system for creating transportation inefficiencies.”

Edwards’ study suggests, however, that a change in school start time may pay for itself in other ways. “Later start times have the potential to be a more cost-effective method of increasing student achievement than other common educational interventions, such as reducing class size,” he notes.

In the coming months, DPS staff will analyze student achievement data and review family surveys to determine whether its changes have been worthwhile, Denton says.

“We certainly hope all high schools will grow academically and that we can tie the new bell schedule to that,” he concludes. “I hope this change has been a good one for students, families and our schools.”

School Transportation by the Numbers

SCHOOL SYSTEM

NUMBER OF SCHOOLS

NUMBER OF STUDENTS

NUMBER OF BUS RIDERS

NUMBER OF BUSES RUNNING DAILY

NUMBER OF MILES BUSES RUN PER DAY

WCPSS

177

160,000

75,000-80,000 (46-50%)

760

100,000

DPS

55

33,000

18,570 (56%)

250

23,000

CHCCS

21

12,100

4,400 (36%)

74

5,356

OCS

13

7,260

3,800 (52%)

66

8,177

 

Bell Schedules by School System

With a few exceptions for individual schools, the Triangle’s four public school systems all operate on a three-tier system that allows them to run school buses on multiple routes each morning and afternoon. One school, Apex High School, has been relocated to the new Green Level High School for two years so it can be renovated. Consequently, its schedule will be 7:10 a.m.-2:03 p.m. to allow for additional bus travel time needed for the new location.

SCHOOL SYSTEM

TIER 1

TIER 2

TIER 3

WCPSS

7:25-2:18 (High)

7:30-2:15 (Middle)

8:15-3 (Middle)

8:30-3 (Elementary)

9:15-3:45 (Elementary)

DPS

7:30-2:20 (Middle)

7:45-2:15 (Elementary)

8:30-3 (Elementary)

9-4 (High)

9:15-3:45 (Elementary)

CHCCS

7:50-2:30 (Elementary)

8:20-3:10 (Middle)

8:45-3:55 (High)

OCS

7:55-2:50 (Elementary)

8:20-3:35 (Middle)

8:45-4 (High)

 

Karen Lewis Taylor is a former high school teacher with extensive experience writing about education, child mental health and students with special needs. A lifelong resident of the Triangle, she lives with her family in Apex.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

30 Days of Giveaways: Day 23

Enter to win a variety of Alex Brand toys and a Kammock Roo Jr.

30 Days of Giveaways: Day 22

Enter to win a little Christmas in September, flu season prep supplies and more!

Sept. 24-27: Take a Child Outside Week Activities Galore

Take a sunset walk, learn about “hoppers" and investigate trees in Raleigh; and hear a nature-inspired story and explore a garden in Durham.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

September 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

Where:
Optimist Park Community Center/Greenways
5900 Whittier Drive
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Sponsor: FIT4MOM
Telephone: 919-348-0472
Contact Name: Missy Currin
Website »

More information

The autumnal equinox signals the beginning of fall. It is the point when there are exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness at the equator. Mark the change of seasons by heading to the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Embrace your inner rebel and celebrate the motorcycle lifestyle with family-friendly activities ranging from stunt shows and specialty rides to live music and local vendors. See website for hours.

Cost: $10 for ages 13 and older. Free for ages 12 and younger.

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Mindful Families of Durham
Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: $18

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  17560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Contact Name: Rebecca Quinones
Website »

More information

Experience a full day of outdoor experiences, nature adventures and family-friendly activities to kick off Take a Child Outside Week.

Cost: Free

Where:
Bond Park
801 High House Rd.
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a 5K race, a kid’s dash and family activities to raise awareness in the fight against lung cancer in North Carolina. 

Cost: Free-$30

Where:
Midtown Park
4011 Cardinal at North Hills
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Rodeos, a mule-pulling contest, arts and crafts, vendors, carnival rides, street performers, bluegrass shows and more are all part of Benson Mule Days. 

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Benson
500 S. Market St.
Benson, NC  27504
View map »


Website »

More information

Discover Historic Yates Mill – a place of business, community and exciting local history! Explore the inner workings of the mill itself and witness the power of water as it turns the milling...

Cost: $5 for Adults $4 for Seniors (ages 60 & over) $3 for Children (ages 7–16)* *Ch

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675

More information

Pepper Fest heats up with a fresh array of pepper-themed dishes and brews, family activities, a kid chef competition and zesty live music.

Cost: $5-$30

Where:
The Great Meadow, Briar Chapel
161 Salt Cedar Ln.
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
View map »


Website »

More information

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Monday, Sept. 24, 11 a.m.–noon Let’s celebrate the arrival of Fall! Make a craft inspired by the leaves’ changing colors. We will bring the materials if you bring the imagination! For all...

Cost: free

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Road
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850
Contact Name: Ashley Martin

More information

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Search the meadow for katydid, cicadas, crickets and other incredible insects that make up approximately 80% of the world’s species of animals. All ages. Register online. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Website »

More information

Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2–3:30 p.m. The harvest season was a busy time for Laura Ingalls Wilder's pioneer family. Put on your straw hat or sun bonnet and head to the park to try out the types of farm...

Cost: $6/person

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675

More information

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Discover how beavers live, eat and play in their watery world. Search for beaver signs around the pond. Ages 3-5 with parent. Advance registration required.  

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilkerson Nature Preserve
5229 Awls Haven Drive
Raleigh, NC  27614
View map »


Sponsor: City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
Telephone: 919-996-6764
Contact Name: Wilkerson staff
Website »

More information

Ages 11 and older with special needs enjoy croquet, bocci, corn hole, ladder ball and more. Register online. Choose course #117149.

Cost: $4/resident, $5/nonresident

Where:
Page-Walker Arts & History Center
119 Ambassador Loop
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Play giant board games and special activities.

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Cary Park
319 S. Academy St.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy nature-themed books followed by a hands-on activity or garden exploration. Ages 3-5 with adult. Register online.

Cost: Free

Where:
North Carolina Botanical Garden
100 Old Mason Farm Rd
Chapel Hill, NC  27517
View map »


Sponsor: North Carolina Botanical Garden
Telephone: 919-537-3770
Contact Name: Elisha Taylor
Website »

More information

Apple Day features fresh North Carolina apples, an apple dessert and more.

Cost: Free

Where:
State Farmers Market
1201 Agriculture St.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 11 and older with special needs enjoy trivia about sports, music, movies and more. Register online. Choose course #116583.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
Cary Senior Center
120 Maury O'Dell Place
Cary, NC  27513
View map »


Website »

More information

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Mums and pumpkins take center stage at this festival featuring food trucks, inflatables, hayrides and vendors.

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N. First Ave.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Welcome fall's arrival with a food truck rodeo, car show, face painting, a craft show and more.  

Cost: Free

Where:
125 U.S. 1-A
Youngsville, NC  27596
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy national and regional professional dancers from the Wake Forest dance community and beyond, as well locally rising advanced dance performers. 

Cost: Free

Where:
E. Carroll Joyner Park
701 Harris Rd.
Wake Forest, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Take part in a 1.4-mile walk for inclusiveness. Registration and activities begin at 10 a.m.; walk begins at 10:30 a.m. Enjoy refreshments, games, raffle and a decorating station. All ages and...

Cost: $15/family, $5/individual

Where:
Kids Together Playground
111 Thurston Dr.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

Mums and pumpkins take center stage at this festival featuring food trucks, inflatables, hayrides and vendors.

Cost: Free

Where:
Knightdale Station Park
810 N. First Ave.
Knightdale, NC  27545
View map »


Website »

More information

Take the family for a celebration of Orange County’s heritage and culture. Enjoy local food, music, cooking demonstrations, local artists and crafters, and kids’ activities.

Cost: Free

Where:
Blackwood Farm Park
4215 NC Hwy 86
Hillsborough, NC  27278
View map »


Sponsor: Orange County Government
Telephone: 919-245-2063
Contact Name: Mike Lanier
Website »

More information

Children's booksellers read their favorite picture books. All ages.

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Matthew Cordell's upcoming tour for his next book, "King Alice," will make a stop at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. Cordell most recently won the Caldecott Medal for his picture book,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Enjoy a day at the park and listen to stories from professional storytellers in an event presented in partnership with Wake County Public Libraries. Enjoy a wagon shuttle, activity tents, and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Oak View County Park
4028 Carya Dr.
Raleigh, NC  27610
View map »


Sponsor: Wake County Public Libraries and Wake County Parks, Recreation and Open Space
Telephone: 919-212-7695
Contact Name: Abby Jones
Website »

More information

Take the family for pony rides, riding demonstrations, miniature horses and a petting area, hayrides, games, food trucks and an appearance by Woody and Jesse from Toy Story. Purchase activity bands...

Cost: Admission is free. Some activities charge a fee.

Where:
Horses for Hope
2909 Banks Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Website »

More information

Celebrate Morrisville, Wake County’s most diverse community, with a day of food, culture and music from around the world. Kids can enjoy face painting and a bounce house.

Cost: Free

Where:
Park West Village
Village Market Place
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Website »

More information

Snakes are very misunderstood and feared, yet are so important to the ecosystem. Meet some friendly snakes up close and learn about common snakes found in this area. All ages. Meet at the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2 p.m., 2:30 p.m. or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring...

Cost: $5 for Adults $4 for Seniors (ages 60 & over) $3 for Children (ages 7–16)* *Ch

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675

More information

Explore the historic heart of downtown Raleigh on a walking tour of Fayetteville Street. Tours highlight the people, places, architecture and political movements that have shaped...

Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

Where:
City of Raleigh Museum
220 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Be part of the 2017 Harvest Festival, organized by St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church Raleigh, where authentic freshly cooked food, stage performances, music, live auction,...

Cost: Free

Where:
St Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church
225 Bashford Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27606
View map »


Website »

More information

PlayMakers Repertory Company presents Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, a rip-roaring romp through Sherwood Forest with all the thrills and romance you could ever...

Cost: $12-$57

Where:
PlayMakers Repertory Company
120 Country Club Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27599
View map »


Sponsor: PlayMakers Repertory Company
Telephone: 703-850-2282

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module

Magazine

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2017-18 Education Guide offers 660 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2018 Readers' Favorites are.