Rejecting one-size-fits-all approach, California governor vetoes later school start time bill

September 20, 2018

Students work in the library at Skyline High School in Oakland.

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Gov. Jerry Brown has quashed an effort to mandate later school start times in most middle and high schools by vetoing a bill that would have banned starts before 8:30 a.m.

“This is a one-size-fits-all approach that is opposed by teachers and school boards,” he wrote in his Thursday veto message for SB 328, authored by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D–La Cañada Flintridge. “Several schools have already moved to later start times. Others prefer beginning the school day earlier. These are the types of decisions best handled in the local community.”

Portantino said he remains committed to the need to delay school start times and plans to “bring this important public health issue back next year.

Lisa Lewis, spokesperson for the nonprofit Start School Later California, which supported the bill, said she intended to continue advocating for later school start times throughout the state and would support another bill in the Legislature. The bill picked up steam this year when it passed the Legislature and was sent to the governor, after failing to win enough votes in the Assembly last year.

Lewis stressed that a state law is needed since most districts in the state have an unhealthy start time of before 8:30 a.m. She pointed to a 2011-12 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that reports that nearly 80 percent of schools start before 8:30 a.m. 

The Centers for Disease Control recommend the 8:30 a.m. start time based on research that shows teens undergo biological changes when they reach adolescence that makes it difficult for them to go to sleep early, resulting in sleep deprivation that can contribute to poor attendance, lower grades and graduation rates, depression and other health issues.

“It’s incredibly disappointing,” Lewis said of the veto by Brown, whose term ends this year. “I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of it at the state level. I think the current situation has proven that it is not being handled adequately at the local level.”

The California Teachers Association, which opposed the bill, was “pleased” that Brown stuck to his support for local decision-making in individual districts, said CTA spokeswoman Claudia Briggs.

“Our members aren’t opposed to changing the start time and never were — they just believed it’s a matter that has to be decided at the local level with input from students, parents and school boards who live in the local community and know the challenges and benefits of current start times,” she said. “They are the ones who are best equipped to determine what start time would be best for their students. We’re glad to see that the governor agrees with us.”

Now, the average school start time for California’s more than 3 million public middle and high school students is 8:07 a.m., according the Centers for Disease Control study.The bill would have allowed districts to continue to offer optional “zero periods,” which are extra classes students can take voluntarily, before 8:30 a.m. It also would have exempted rural districts.

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