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Later School Times: California Ahead of the Game

The idea of school starting later is not new to California or the education system of the United States. For years, a mix of suggestions and complaints from both teachers and students, as well as numerous studies done about school start times and their effects, have given rise to a push for later start times, specifically in California.

On October 13th, 2019 Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law SB-328 Pupil Attendance: School Start Time which was previously passed by California’s State Legislature on September 13th, 2019. This bill requires middle and high schools, including charter schools, to begin no earlier than 8:00 am (for middle schools) and 8:30 am (for high schools). This bill was put in place in hopes of increased academic and educational success by giving students more time to sleep.

There are exceptions to this bill, though, as rural school districts and schools that offer optional zero periods are exempt from having to follow this senate bill. It will go into full effect July 2022 for the start of the 2022-2023 school year which will give California school districts and schools 3 years to adopt this new start time and craft a bell schedule where students are still meeting California’s instructional time requirements.

Even though this bill may seem like a new invention, a bill very similar to this one was vetoed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown. Last year’s bill differed in that it made it so both middle and high schools in California were banned from starting school before 8:30 am. Gov. Jerry Brown is notoriously a strong supporter of local control, and vetoed this bill, describing it as a “one-size-fits-all approach” that is “opposed by teachers and school boards.” Brown believes that schools and school districts should have the power to control their own start times. He also noted that many other schools in California had already adopted later starting times.

Still, the bill’s author, Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), made changes such as the adjustment of the middle school starting time and pushed for the passing of this bill. Portantino’s efforts were not in vain as his bill eventually got passed. He described Gov. Newsom’s decision as “[putting] our children’s health and welfare ahead of institutional bureaucracy resistant to change.”

The health and welfare of children mentioned by Portantino is what garnered support and made this bill a reality. During puberty, there is an array of physical, mental, and social changes one can experience. One of these changes is a biological shift in the sleep schedules when kids undergo puberty at the beginning of adolescence. During puberty, teens will begin to adopt a more nocturnal, owl-like sleep schedule where they will go to sleep later and wake up later naturally. Along with these biological changes, things such as lifestyle choices and academic demands also affect the ability of youths to obtain the necessary amount of sleep. But, no matter the cause of this loss of sleep, teens are suffering from a deficit in sleep and with that deficit comes major problems in learning and cognition. Insufficient sleep leads to reduced alertness and attention levels. This paired with the fact that the brain cannot undergo important memory consolidation that occurs during REM sleep if one does not get an adequate amount of sleep, the starting times of current schools have a negative effect on not only the ability of students to learn but also their quality of life. It is because of problems such as these that the Academy of American Pediatrics and the CDC has recommended a later school start times in order to give students an opportunity to get the necessary amount of sleep and have improved physical and mental health, as well as improved academic success.

Though there are numerous benefits to come with this bill there was still major opposition. Groups such as the California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association both were against the bill and feared it will affect before and after school programs and the schedules of buses and working parents. Those who are on the opposition feel that with later start times, the needs of working parents are not met as it will be harder for them to both go to work and drop their kids off at school. This aligns with the comments of Gov. Jerry Brown: that school start times should be decided on a local level in order to best suit everyone in the community.

No matter who supported or opposed this bill, the future of California’s school start times was sealed on October 13th. The signing of this bill made California a leader and an example to the rest of the nation on this issue of school start times. This groundbreaking decision to put children’s health over politics and bureaucracy is already an inspiration to other states, such as Ohio and the U.S. territory of the Virgin Islands, which are starting to introduce bills similar to California’s. With three years to implement this bill, there is plenty of time to work out all the possible implications that could come with it so there can be a smooth transition into this new schedule

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