Opinion: Philadelphia’s new school start schedule would wreak havoc on students and beyond

Saved by the bell? Not this time.

Virus Outbreak School Buses
Keith Srakocic / AP Photo
Headshot SK

Stephanie King is the president of Kearny Friends, the community group supporting Gen. Philip Kearny School in Northern Liberties, and serves on the Parent Committee of Education Voters PA.


It sounds like an exaggeration to say “the future of Philly schools are at stake” over a schedule change. Just set your alarm, right?

The School District of Philadelphia recently announced changes to school start times across the district. Most high schools are set to begin at 7:30 a.m., while many elementary schools now start at 9 a.m. The district claims this “standardized bell schedule” is necessary for transportation reasons and was made “in collaboration” with schools, but both principals and parents feel blindsided by the announcement.

7:30 a.m. is an impossible time for students, especially older ones. Studies have shown, over and over again, that teenagers with a later sleep schedule are more ready to learn.

Likewise, 9:00 a.m. is an impossible time for working parents. Families were already rushing to get to work after dropping their kids off at school. Now, working parents (and be real, mostly moms) will be forced to choose between being late to the office, hiring before-school care, or not working.

This is a devastating change that goes far beyond being a minor schedule inconvenience. After the trials of last year, another boneheaded decision that erodes confidence in our public school system and drives parents to look for other options is the last thing this city needs. Parents who favored in-person classes AND parents who chose remote learning alike were looking forward to a return to normalcy, which this absolutely ruins.

What the district is doing with this schedule is telling every parent who works 9 to 5 they don’t care about parents being able to get to work. They’re telling every teenager (and their parents) they don’t care about the research that shows what’s best for students.

Most importantly, they’re showing they don’t care about completely disrupting our lives at a moment’s notice when it’s convenient for them.

Who is in charge of Superintendent Hite? Since this decision was announced, everyone from a lawmaker on City Council to a member of the Board of Education have complained about how disruptive and inconvenient this decision is. Superintendent Hite supposedly reports to the Board of Education, yet is not required to get the board’s approval to make his unilateral, terrible decisions.

The board serves at the pleasure of Mayor Kenney, a private school alum. He has shown he really doesn’t care about public schools any more than he has to, while somehow having time to snatch a public park to build a stadium for his alma mater.

Recent tax cuts were pitched as a way to “bolster the economy,” but how about bolstering the economy by making sure parents can get to work?

This does not just affect people in schools; the ripple effects of this decision will affect the entire city. For all the hand-wringing about losing residents to the suburbs to avoid the wage tax, municipal leaders  sure don’t seem too worried about everyone who will move “for the schools.” Business leaders should be by our side, putting pressure on the School District to do the right thing.

District officials say these schedule changes are necessary due to staffing shortages and the complexities of bus routes. Legal requirements that they provide transport to eligible students means the district is transporting more than 41,000 students. Of those, only 13,500 go to district schools; the rest to “non-public schools.” Far more students take SEPTA, with the district set to provide over 65,000 student Key cards. (The district has just over 200,000 students total.)

Let’s not forget the current General Manager for Transportation at the school district headquarters is the same person who was COO during the recent SLA/Ben Franklin asbestos renovation debacle. There seems to be no penalty for failure in this district, as neither she nor Superintendent Hite have been called on to resign. What does someone have to do to get fired at 440?

Philadelphia’s public school parents deserve better than to have their lives upended just because the people employed by the school district don’t know how to schedule a bus. Philly schools are already constantly trying to dig themselves out of a hole, and the last thing they need is something like this to throw more dirt in.

A start time of 7:30 is too early for students and 9 o’clock is too late for working parents.

The proposed “standardized bell schedule” is foolish, contrary to best interests of child development AND business, and shows a shocking lack of consideration for our school communities. This new schedule should go in the trash where it belongs, never to be mentioned again.

Mornings in the know

Sign up for Billy Penn’s free morning newsletter for a daily roundup of Philadelphia’s most pressing news, top interesting stories, fun tidbits, and relevant events.

Thanks for reading another Billy Penn article!

We don’t have a paywall, and never will. Instead, we depend on readers like you to keep our newsroom jamming on stories about Philadelphia. If you like what you see, will you support our work?

Thanks for reading a Billy Penn story

We don’t have a paywall, and our daily newsletter is free. Instead, YOU are key to keeping our nonprofit newsroom running strong. If you like what you see, will you join as a member today?

This story was powered by readers

Readers like you make articles like this possible, so thanks for your support. Want to make sure we stick around? Become a sustainer with a recurring contribution!

Tell a friend about Billy Penn

Thanks for reading another article — and we’re grateful for your support! Want to help a friend start their day with Billy Penn? Send them to our newsletter signup page.