Calif. Pushes Back School Start Times to Help Students Get More Sleep and Improve Performance

Middle schools can begin no earlier than 8 a.m., and high schools 8:30 a.m., under the new legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom

Kids in the halls
Photo: Getty

California students will soon be able to get more sleep before heading to school thanks to a new — and controversial — law passed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday.

The legislation, Senate Bill 328, makes California the first state in the nation to establish later start times for its public middle and high schools, according to KTLA. Under the mandate, middle schools in California can open no earlier than 8 a.m., and high schools must open at 8:30 a.m. or later.

Optional early classes will not be affected, and schools located in rural parts of the state can still set their own start times.

According to the news station, an analysis of California schools by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted in 2011-2012 found the average start time for middle school and high school students was 8:07 a.m. — though there were many schools in the state that required students to arrive by 7:30 a.m.

Districts have until July 2022 to begin implementing the new times, according to KTTV.

Proponents of the bill believe the health benefits of getting more sleep will help students perform better in class.

“Newsom displayed a heartwarming and discerning understanding of the importance of objective research and exercised strong leadership as he put our children’s health and welfare ahead of institutional bureaucracy resistant to change,” said State Sen. Anthony Portantino, who authored the bill, according to CNN.

“Generations of children will come to appreciate this historic day and our governor for taking bold action,” he continued. “Our children face a public health crisis. Shifting to a later start time will improve academic performance and save lives because it helps our children be healthier.”

The law did not pass without pushback. Many school districts believed local officials should be the ones setting start times, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We should not set the bell schedule from Sacramento,” Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, a Democrat from Long Beach, told the newspaper. “Sacramento does not know best.”

O’Donnell is a former schoolteacher and serves as chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.

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The California Teachers Association also criticized Gov. Newsom’s signing of SB 328, telling the Times the law “disproportionately” impacts working families who have won’t necessarily have the option to adjust to later start times.

“We know from experience that many of these parents will drop their children off at school at the same time they do now, regardless of whether there is supervision, and there is not enough funding from the state for before school programs to ensure the safety of students who will be dropped off early,” said CTA spokesperson Claudia Briggs, according to the outlet.

As CNN noted, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says adolescents become sleepier later at night when they enter puberty and need more time to sleep in the mornings during this pivotal point in their lives.

The organization recommends that children ages 6 to 12 get nine to 12 hours of sleep a night. Teens should get eight to 10 hours of sleep, AASM advises.

The organization says getting too little sleep can cause attention and behavior problems, including difficulties learning.

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