Philadelphia to move high school start time to 9 a.m.

Students wearing masks sit at desks while looking at laptop computers.
Tenth grade students sit in class at Philadelphia’s Northeast High School last month. Superintendent William Hite said Thursday the district will push back the start time for high schools to 9 a.m. next school year. (Alexandre da Veiga for Chalkbeat)

Philadelphia district officials said Thursday that they plan to move the starting time for high schools to 9 a.m. for the next school year – moving the schedule back by as much as 90 minutes in some cases.

Chief of Schools Evelyn Nunez sent a letter to all parents informing them of the change, citing American Academy of Pediatrics research showing that adolescents learn better and are more alert when they arrive at school later. She also said pushing back the start time will promote safer travel to and from school. 

“We recognize that changing start and end times can present challenges to families, and remain committed to providing support to families wherever possible,” Nunez said in the letter

Nunez said that the new start time will also cover high schools that serve the middle grades, although four high schools will be exempted from the change because their schedules must align with those of their partner institutions. The start time for elementary schools that serve prekindergarten through the eighth grade will not change next year. Pre-K programs located in high schools will maintain their current schedules.

The later start time will also have an impact on the scheduling of after-school sports and other activities, since school won’t end until around 4 p.m.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers said on Twitter that it opposed the change because it was made unilaterally in violation of its contract, but did not take a position on the desirability of the change itself.

The new schedule essentially reverses a decision made last year, when the district moved to standardize what was then more than 40 different start times for its roughly 200 schools to three start times  – 7:30 a.m., 8:15 a.m., and 9 a.m.

As part of that reshuffling, most high schools were given a start time of 7:30 a.m., even if they had originally been later, a change that caused a backlash among many parents, teachers, and students.

But officials continued to study the matter even after that shift, said district spokeswoman Monica Lewis. 

“This is really part of a continuing discussion on the three-tier bell schedule,” Lewis said. She said that the union had been consulted during the process.

The district will also conduct four virtual community forums during the week to discuss the change. Lewis said that high schools will “have the option” of conducting conversations with faculty and students and potentially move the start time to 8:40 a.m., but no earlier than that. “The intent is to have high schools next year start at 9 a.m.,” she said. 

The four high schools that will keep their current start times are Widener Memorial School, which serves students with physical disabilities; Pennypack House School and the Juvenile Justice Center, which must coordinate with the prison system; and Parkway Center City High School, which is an early-college high school and partners with the Community College of Philadelphia. 

This story has been updated to clarify that the letter with information about the new start time came from Chief of Schools Evelyn Nunez, not Superintendent William Hite.

Dale Mezzacappa is a senior writer for Chalkbeat Philadelphia, where she covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in the city. She is a former president of the Education Writers Association. Contact Dale at dmezzacappa@chalkbeat.org.

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