California teens may get to sleep a bit later before heading to school, if the governor signs a bill requiring middle and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. But not everyone agrees that allowing the legislature to dictate the starting times of local schools is good policy.
Middle and high school students in California start their school day on average at 8:07 a.m. according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a time that researchers say denies them badly needed sleep.
The bill’s passage by the full Legislature on Aug. 31 came as a surprise, after it failed in the Assembly last year. But supporters flooded legislators with emails this year, driving home the point that research shows most teens are unable to go to sleep early due to changes in their biological clocks and that sleep deprivation leads to absenteeism, lower grades, higher dropout rates and depression.
Critics of the change are appealing to Brown’s support for local control — letting school districts decide for themselves how to run their schools. This group includes education heavyweights such as the California School Boards Association, the California Teachers Association, California Association of School Business Officials, Association of California School Administrators, the California Association of Suburban Schools and the Kern County and Riverside County offices of education.
California Teachers Association President Eric Heins said his union opposes a “one size fits all” solution imposed by the state, which could result in “unintended consequences” affecting transportation costs, employee contracts, cafeteria service and class schedules.
“We don’t know all the impact it’s going to have on any community,” he said. “There are a lot of different ripple effects of this.”.
One ripple effect is the need to renegotiate working hours in many districts for teachers and other employees, such as bus drivers, affected by the later start times.
The teachers union has sent a veto request to the governor and expects many of its members to also appeal to Brown “to continue in his mission” of support for local control that he brought to California, said spokeswoman Claudia Briggs. Brown championed the Local Control Funding Formula, which gives school districts greater decision-making over use of state funds, as well as extra funds to educate low-income, English learner, foster children and homeless children.
But, teachers unions are split on this issue. The California Federation of Teachers backs the bill joining other groups that support medical research showing that teens have difficulty falling asleep early in the evening and functioning well in the morning.
Brown, who has not said whether he will support the bill, has until the end of the month to sign or veto it.
In the meantime, both supporters and opponents are sending letters and making phone calls to the governor’s office in an attempt to influence his decision.
Supporters are tweeting the governor’s contact information and urging others who share their concerns to advocate for his signature on the bill, while those opposed to the bill are also ramping up communications to the governor’s office.
#StartSchoolLater supporters please feel free to drop @JerryBrownGov a note here to sign #SB328 to stick with doctors’ recs and protect teen health with 8:30 or later secondary school start times. https://t.co/NMbXIrnHPe
— Mariah Baughn MD (@mariahbaughn) September 4, 2018
“It is fundamental to put the well-being of our students first and I am glad that this important measure is moving forward,” said state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D–La Cañada Flintridge, after SB 328, which he authored, passed the Assembly. “The science and results are clear — our teens are healthier and perform better when school starts later.”
Opponents don’t dispute the research, but maintain it should be up to local school boards to assess their community’s needs. Jeffrey Vaca, chief governmental relations officer for the Riverside County Office of Education, sent a letter to the governor on Tuesday outlining concerns about the bill including transportation costs and the lack of a clear definition of rural districts. He was part of a coalition of nine education groups that sent a memo raising similar issues to assembly members last week.
Vaca said Wednesday that he was hopeful the governor’s general support of local control would be an important consideration as Brown evaluates the proposed law.
“I think it’s fair to say that during his time in office, he’s been very consistent about wanting decisions regarding school districts to be made at the local level,” Vaca said. “But I also know that he will be very interested in looking at all the research.”
The California School Boards Association intends to send a veto request to the governor by the end of the week, said Nancy Chaires Espinoza, legislative advocate for CSBA. Like other opponents, she’s hoping Brown will weigh local control in his decision, along with transportation costs and the safety of students walking or biking to school during rush hour.
“I think the governor is going to thoughtfully consider all of the arguments for and against,” she said. “We hope our members will help us explain why this intervention of later school times can be good in some places, but it’s not going to be necessarily good in all communities.”