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Tampa-area school districts ponder later start times ahead of a 2026 deadline

A school bus
Hillsborough County Schools

Pinellas and Pasco County schools released bell schedules for the upcoming school year. They remain largely unchanged as the districts figure out how to push back start times by 2026.

Pasco and Pinellas County Schools will not be making significant changes to start times — yet.

District officials said they are still working on how to comply with state legislation passed last year that mandates high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and middle schools no earlier than 8:00 a.m.

The new schedule, which would impact most high schools and a swath of middle schools, must be implemented by July 2026.

Pinellas Schools' Chief Operating Officer Clint Herbic called the mandatory changes a “huge undertaking” that would affect not only parents and school staff, but also municipal partners.

High schools in the Pinellas district as well as a few elementary and middle schools currently start before 8 a.m.

In Pasco, high school start times range between 7:10 a.m. to 10:10 a.m. Several middle schools in the district begin before 8 a.m.

Supporters of the law pointed to research that shows starting school later in the morning is better for teenagers’ mental and physical health. The legislation also requires district school boards to inform the community about the impacts of sleep deprivation.

One major challenge for districts is revamping bus routes. Herbic said Pinellas is anticipating new software this July that would help in that planning.

The time shift also means putting “some of the most inexperienced drivers in the county” — high school age drivers — on the road during rush hour, said Herbic. That means working with the county’s emergency management on how to prepare for and minimize traffic accidents.

Traffic signs in school speed zones will have to be modified and traffic signals reprogrammed as well, he added.

Crossing guards may need additional training and school employees with young children will have to shift daycare schedules.

“That’s why we’re not moving through this quickly,” said Herbic. “We’re moving methodically.”

Pinellas School Superintendent Kevin Hendrick pointed out that his district also faces an unusual dilemma.

"We're the densest county in Florida, twice as dense as anywhere else, so to move traffic around is quite a challenge," said Hendrick.

Pinellas school officials said they’re consulting other districts in the state that have already implemented the new start times, as well as districts in California, the first state to do so by law.

Hillsborough County pushed back start times in 2018, before the law was passed.

Polk County Schools are holding town halls to gather input from families.

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.
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