Survey shows most students, parents don’t want change to bus system

The survey says no.

Sequim School District’s board of directors got a close look at results from a portion of a district-wide survey about a proposed two-tier bus schedule that would see students in secondary (middle, high school) grade levels start about an hour later.

And while a majority of those surveyed said they could see some benefits to the change, a majority of them responded that the challenges — conflicts with parents’ schedules, has less time for after school activities, family time and homework, and getting out of school too late in general — most (57%) said they do not support a later start time for secondary students.

Board directors did not vote on the proposed two-tier plan but agreed to not pursue the change.

“It seems challenges would outweigh the benefits,” Sequim schools superintendent Regan Nickels said.

“I do think the survey reflects that our students are having challenges right now,” she said.

“[They] feel their schedules are very full. It’s a challenge for students to get all of their homework done. They want to be involved in school activities. They do want to be involved in sports, band, drama.”

More than 1,000 individuals took part in the survey, Nickels said; of that, about 400 were high school students.

About 45% of the survey respondents were parents, guardians or family members of district students.

“What struck me the most was that impacting families’ work schedules; that was a very significant percentage,” board president Eric Pickens said. “We definitely want to listen to our community and [their] concerns.”

Many of those who responded, Nickels noted, said that while there may be a benefit for opening an opportunity for students to get more sleep with a later start time, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will use that time to sleep more.

“Gaming and technology [and a] desire to be up later is pushing that,” Nickels said, noting a comment from a teen who took part in the survey: “I would just stay up even later if I knew I could wake up later.”

Many parents also have reservations about a later start for students, she said. An example comment from the survey, Nickels reported, was that “working parents cannot [possibly] make this work; late-start Mondays are already difficult.”

Board director Michael Rocha pointed out that community groups using Sequim facilities for such activities such as athletics are already pinched for time; pushing back everything an hour in a district with limited field and gym space would be problematic.

“I think the results speak for themselves at this point and time,” Rocha said.

Board director Larry Jeffryes said that, without a clear idea of how much changing to a two-tiered system would cost, and the reality of Sequim School District’s budget constraints, this proposal won’t work right now.

“For me, the bottom line is we cannot afford to go to a two-tier bus system at this time,” he said.

“Even if the cost wouldn’t be that much, we don’t have that much to spend,” Jeffryes said. “The budget constraints are real. We don’t have any extra money.”

Parent-prompted proposal

Nickels said the district delved into the possibility of a two-tiered bus system after being prompted by parent interest. Several other districts across Washington state have decided to implement a similar system, she noted.

Donald Hall, the district’s transportation supervisor, and Nickels presented the board with the two-tier plan in December.

The current, single-run system funnels bus runs through the parking lot at the school district’s stadium on West Fir Street located between Sequim High School and Helen Haller Elementary School.

That system, Hall noted, puts student bus riders, elementary through middle and high school grades in one spot with a lot of pedestrian traffic, while Greywolf Elementary in Carlsborg also sees crowded pickup and drop off times.

A two-tiered system would see a set of Sequim buses pick up students on the east side of Sequim and another on the west and make stops at both elementary schools, then do a second run to transport secondary students students to school.

The proposed system, Hall said in December, could instead utilize bus “ramps” already built into each school campus: Helen Haller has a lane between the main parking lot and its buildings; Greywolf has one on each end of the front parking lot (and a third lane possible going to the back of the school); Sequim Middle School has two lanes, one circling the front parking lot and a second between the gymnasium and West Hendrickson Road; and Sequim High school has a lane between the main lot of North Sequim Avenue and the campus.

Among the benefits of a system, Hall noted, are: safer pick-ups and drop-offs at each school; improved sleep patterns for secondary students with a later start; increasing elementary-age ridership; reduction in tardiness; improved student behavior on buses, and fewer buses on the road (from about 18 to 14 for each run).

The shift would keep students in the younger grades together and secondary students together, rather than the current system that puts the district’s youngest and oldest students on the same bus rides. He also said having fewer buses on the road helps with the struggle to find bus drivers.

Nickels also noted an updated plan will likely help more students get to school and be on time.

The change to a two-tier system has drawbacks, Hall noted at the same meeting: some longer individual routes; increase in fuel costs (mitigated somewhat by likely fewer maintenance issues); early dismissal for secondary students from their final classes, and childcare issues for elementary students. He said that districts on such systems have had to find solutions for student-athletes having to leave for events before the later bell; some have mandated classes late in the day that are not “core” classes.

On March 4, Nickels noted that this proposal was put forth before administrators got a full view of the school district’s budget constraints heading into the 2024-2025 school year.

Board director Maren Halverson said Sequim should study other districts who have made a similar change.

“I would bet there was a fair amount of concern there, too,” she said. “Simply because there are concerns now doesn’t mean those concerns can’t be addressed.”

Nickels said the district may look at other ways to help address student mental health issues.

She said she will present results from surveys to board directors in upcoming board meetings regarding 1) budget decisions and 2) upgrades to laptops that have outlived their usefulness.