Changes proposed

Bridgeport Elementary students crowd into the gate at 7:50 a.m. on the first day of school in August 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

California teens may soon be able to snooze their alarms an extra time or two after state lawmakers approved a bill Friday that aims to regulate school start times.

Senate Bill 328, which Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to sign, would restrict school districts from starting middle and high school classes any earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Existing law allows the governing board of each school district to set the length of the day for its school sites, but if the new bill is signed, public and chartered schools will have until 2021 to adjust their instruction times.

More than three-quarters of California’s middle and high schools start classes before 8:30 a.m., according to a legislative analysis, which means nearly 2,000 schools across the state would have to change their start times.

Proponents of SB 328 say the new time limits would prevent sleep deprivation and the harmful effects that it can have on young students, but state Sen. Scott Wilk, who voted against the bill four times, said the decision on school start times should remain in the hands of the school boards.

“Too often Sacramento sends down edicts and makes requirements that may or may not work in the best interests of the community,” Wilk said. “The fact of the matter is we have local school districts with locally elected school boards that are there to make the decisions on the best interests of the students.”

Wilk said a “one-size-fits-all program” might be more harmful to the students than beneficial, which matches the concerns of the California School Boards Association.

When SB 328 failed to pass the state assembly in 2017, CSBA officials said the bill would affect working families and the schools that purposely stagger start times to meet student demand for bus transportation.

“I had a school district in the Antelope Valley try this a couple years ago and it didn’t work,” Wilk said, which is why he believes the state should show the sleep deprivation study results to the local districts and leave it to the community to decide what’s in the best interest of students.

Research detailing the effects of sleep deprivation and the benefits of a later school start time is expected to be posted on the State Department of Education’s website if the new legislation is signed by Gov. Brown, according to the bill’s text.

It is currently unknown if or when the governor plans to sign or veto the prospective legislation.

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