California lawmaker proposes bill to start school later

SCV natives shine in academics. Courtesy photo

Students in middle school and high school could have an extra hour to sleep in every morning, thanks to a bill currently moving through the California Legislature.

The bill isn’t prompting William S. Hart Union High School District to move in any particular direction at the moment.

Senate Bill 328, proposed by Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge), would prohibit middle schools and high school from starting first period any earlier than 8:30 a.m.

The delayed start time for school days would not include “zero period” or additional periods offered before the start of the school day.

SB 328 is based on a 2014 recommendation from The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which advised school districts to change their start times to no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Research from the AAP found that pushing back the school day increases attendance rates, grade point averages, test scores, student attention and student and family interaction.  It also found that sleep deprivation can cause depression, weight gain, irritability, inattentiveness and academic difficulties.

“There are nearly 400 school districts around the country that have gone to a late start and each has seen tremendous health and academic benefits for their children after making the move,” Portantino said in a statement.

Current law allows each school district governing board to choose their school start times for individual grades and classes.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average start time for middle schools and high schools is 8:07 a.m.

However, supporters of the bill say this start time is too early for adolescents who tend to fall asleep and wake up later due to hormonal changes.

“Simply recommending earlier bed times for adolescents does not solve the problem because pediatric biologic changes prevent such compliance,” Children’s Hospital Los Angeles said in its March 5 letter of support for the bill.  “Teens’ natural sleep-wake cycles begin shifting two hours later at the start of puberty, thus making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.”

Research from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles also found that lack of sleep lead to increased athletic injury and mental health problems, worsened academic achievement and additional automobile accidents.

Opponents of the bill believe it could cause problems for parents in the morning.  Others, like the William S. Hart Union High School District, believe school start times should remain under local control.

“While this is in reaction to research that shows young folks need additional sleep, we still think it needs to be a decision best left to individual school boards in order to best meet the needs of their students,” the Hart District said in a statement.  “In the Hart District, our school times are staggered to ease traffic and accommodate families who need to drop off kids at multiple schools.”

Currently, SB 328 is moving through committees in the California State Assembly.  The bill passed the California State Senate on March 30 with 25 votes in favor.

If approved by the State Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown, middle schools and high schools throughout California would be required to change to start times to no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by July 1, 2020.

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