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No more school daze? California weighs making middle & high schools start later so students can sleep in

Mareesa Nicosia | August 16, 2017

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(Photo: Getty Images)

You snooze, you lose.

A California bill that would turn that aphorism on its head — by requiring the state’s middle and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. — faces a final vote when lawmakers return to Sacramento later this month.

The bill has support from a number of health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, whose research shows it is unhealthy and counterproductive for teenagers to be in class any earlier than 8:30 a.m.

The bill, SB-328, passed the Senate in the spring and the Assembly Education Committee on July 12. It now awaits a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in late August or early September.

“This makes a big statement to children, parents, and the education community that more and more legislators are using sound and definitive research to put the best interests of our students first,” bill sponsor state Sen. Anthony Portantino, whose daughters are in high school and college, said in a statement following the Education Committee vote. “School districts around the country that have moved teenage school start times later have seen measurable, positive results for student achievement and student public health.”

In recent years, hundreds of schools in dozens of states have delayed start times as the Start School Later movement has gained momentum around the country. Advocates point to a growing body of research that supports the idea that adolescents’ overall well-being and academic performance improve when school starts no earlier than 8:30 a.m., giving them additional time to sleep in the morning.

(The 74: Start School Later: New Study Shows That More Sunlight Before Classes Improves Test Scores)

The average start time for some California public schools is 8:07 a.m., according to data cited in Portantino’s bill.

The Golden State would be the first to legislate school start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m., according to Start School Later, a nonprofit group that’s led a state-by-state advocacy effort on the issue since 2011.

Similar legislation has been introduced or considered in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada, according to the group.

If passed, the California proposal would take effect by July 1, 2020. But first, it must clear the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which will conduct a cost analysis when the legislature reconvenes Aug. 21. Whether the bill will move to the full Assembly for debate and a vote will likely be decided at a Sept. 1 hearing.

The Assembly would need to pass the bill by Sept. 15 in order for Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it this session.

In the Senate version, rural school districts that demonstrate a significant economic hardship could get a waiver from the state Board of Education to delay implementation by up to four years. According to a Senate Appropriations Committee analysis completed this spring, the requirement would not apply to California’s charter schools.

The analysis found that the measure would likely produce “very significant local costs” for schools to provide home-to-school transportation and engage in local collective bargaining. Additional staff supervision for students who arrive early could cost the state’s general fund millions of dollars.

Nancy Chaires Espinoza, legislative advocate for the California School Boards Association, which opposes the bill, told The Sacramento Bee that implementing the bill would be difficult in a state so large and diverse.

“It just defies logic to prescribe a single start time for communities where parents largely don’t have the flexibility to adjust their work schedules [and] where there aren’t safe places for kids to go in the morning after their parents leave,” Espinoza told the newspaper. “It forces students to choose between school and a job, some students will have to choose their job out of economic necessity.”

In other states, later starts have been discussed at the local level, often with passionate debate among parents, students, school staff, and administrators who must weigh competing priorities, including bus routes, sports and extracurricular schedules, and teacher contracts.

A student-led campaign in Columbia, Missouri, led public school officials to shift high school start times by more than an hour, from 7:45 a.m. to as late as 9:10 a.m., as part of a districtwide transportation schedule overhaul prompted by the opening of a new high school.

Advocates there pointed to a CDC recommendation that adolescents get 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night, and to a review of 2011–12 data that found 2 in 3 U.S. high school students get less than eight hours of sleep on school nights — and that the majority of public schools start before 8:30 a.m. Students who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, use drugs and alcohol, perform poorly in school, and suffer from depression, according to the CDC.

A few years in, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman told The 74 he and his staff have seen out-of-school suspensions drop and graduation rates rise since the district delayed the first bell.

Although it’s hard to show a direct correlation, Stiepleman said, he and his staff are certain that when students are well-rested, eat nutritious meals, and get regular exercise, they’re better prepared to succeed in school.

“If we can improve our kids’ ability to get a better night’s sleep, we should do it,” he said.

This article was published in partnership with The 74.

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