School start times may be pushed to 8:30 a.m.

Students slumped over their desks, struggling to stay awake is not an uncommon sight. Rolling out of bed before the sun rises is just a part of daily life for middle and high school students. Last year, Senator Anthony Portantino aimed to change that.

Sen. Portantino’s bill, Senate Bill 328 or SB 328, proposes that California middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. It failed to pass last year after backlash from school boards and teachers. However, on Aug. 31 the bill received enough votes to pass and is heading to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk to receive a signature or a veto.  

If the bill goes into effect it would not include optional zero or first periods that commence prior to the mandatory school day, and schools in rural communities would be exempt from the changes. In addition to these changes, the Department of Education would be urged to publish information about the importance of a healthy sleep schedule on their website.

Many current NPHS students would not experience the effects of the bill as California schools have three years to implement the changes.

The majority of the bill’s leverage comes from a statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending the shift in school start times to 8:30 a.m or later. Supporters also cite several studies linking sleep, or lack thereof, to academic success.

The Center for Disease Control, the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association endorse the bill. These groups assert later start times lead to higher attendance, less traffic accidents and improved student performance overall.  

Cali Greenidge, senior, was enthusiastic about the possibility of school starting later. “I think that is the most amazing thing ever,” Greenidge said. Like Portantino, Greenidge feels the change would have a positive impact on learning. “I’ve heard that your brain is not fully functioning before 9 o’clock. I think (students) would perform better in school and academics.”

Organizations such as Start School Later, have rallied around the bill. Start School Later consists of parents, doctors and other concerned community members supporting SB 328. Terra Ziporyn Snider, the executive director and co-founder of Start School Later said, “Moving school start times is no guarantee that most teenagers will get the sleep they need. But not moving school start times is a guarantee that most won’t.”

However, not everyone supports SB 328. Some claim the bill places an additional burden on working families who drive their children to school as well as district employees such as bus drivers. Connor Thorup, senior, expressed concerns about the implications of the bill. “I don’t (think the bill should pass), because I am a morning person, and I enjoy having morning classes before 8 o’clock.” A later start time may also affect extracurriculars, such as sports. As a student athlete, Thorup expressed concerns about how later start times could negatively affect his schedule. “I personally would not like to have to leave earlier. I would like to miss less class if possible, and I don’t want to get home later.”

Even if the bill did pass, it would not necessarily provide students with more time to sleep. Some are already up early for religious reasons. “I have morning seminary, so it might not affect me that much,” Thorup said.

Others insist the bill poses a threat to school districts’ autonomy, which Brown has supported in the past. One of these opposing groups is the California Teachers Association (CTA). CTA’s spokesperson Claudia Briggs said, “It should be a conversation that should be had by school district officials, parents, students and educators.”

Opposers such as Briggs claim that for a state as vast as California a generalized start time is less than ideal. “We shouldn’t have a one-size fits all approach for all school start times based on how geographically diverse and large our state is,” Briggs said.

Despite its past failures Sen. Portantino’s belief in the bill remains unwavering. Brown has until Sept. 30 to reach a final decision. “I’m hoping that people look at the science and put the best interest of kids first,” Portantino said. “We want healthy kids to do well and this is a three-decade peer reviewed research way that has results to back it up.”

Greenidge has a similar point of view, “Early in the morning your brain is not fully awake. You can walk, and talk and breathe, but you’re not ready to learn.”

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