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After months of parent advocacy, Pittsburgh Public Schools board to consider later start times

A student runs towards a school bus.
Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Ben Peterson walks to the bus stop at the end of his street in 2018 when parents in the Fox Chapel Area School District advocated for later start times in their schools.

By 6:45 a.m., Carol Smith’s daughter must get to a city bus stop to make it to Allderdice High School by 7:15 a.m. Her daughter’s high school peers across the city have a similar schedule.

“She walks to the city bus stop in the dark for most of the school year because it’s so early,” she told the board Monday during a public hearing.

Smith is one of several parents who have been asking district leaders to follow the recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics and start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Now, the administration has proposed starting at 7:40 a.m., which Smith calls a good start.

“The start time will help all of our children get more of the 9 hours of sleep that pediatricians recommend for adolescents, and support improvements in physical and mental health (mood, behavior, and cognitive ability), safety, academic performance and their quality of life. There are other factors that affect adolescents, but certainly, 7:15 a.m. is too early, and 7:40 a.m. is a good start,” she said.

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During the board’s agenda review meeting last week, Superintendent Wayne Walters acknowledged the public comments that parents have made about start times. He said his administration had been working to better align schedules for remote professional development opportunities. The district operates several types of schools including pre-K–8, 6–8, 6–12, and 9–12 schools.

His proposed schedule adjustments would align start times by grade level. Walters said he received input from school principals and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and made shifts based on the district’s transportation resources. The district has faced a bus driver shortage for years which was exacerbated during the pandemic.

Emily Cleath told the board that after seven years in the district, she enrolled her son in private school for 7th grade after a tumultuous return from online learning during the pandemic. She said on Monday that her son needed a safer and more nurturing environment. The district’s early start time contributed to his mental health challenges.

“We are hoping to have our son return to PPS for high school and this recognition that depriving older students of much-needed sleep doesn’t make for good academic outcomes nor a healthy school environment is very encouraging,” she said.

Parent Jeff Bigham took up the advocacy work earlier this year, two years after another group of parents had urged former Superintendent Anthony Hamlet to adjust start times. In 2021, more than 1,000 people signed a petition urging change.

Bigham urged students and parents to let the board know how the school schedules impact their families including adjusting work schedules, paying for additional childcare and, of course, losing sleep.

“Starting at 7:40 a.m. will not solve all of our problems, but it’s a clear action we can take to make things better,” he said.

The board is expected to vote on the new schedule Wednesday during its 6:30 p.m. meeting. It can be streamed at