California mandates later start times for middle and high school students

October 13, 2019

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Sunday that will mandate a later morning start for most middle and high schools, choosing to side with pediatricians and the PTA rather than the state’s leading teachers union and groups representing school boards and superintendents.

The bill’s author said California will now become the first state to require later start times in response to medical research that shows most teens are sleep deprived as a result of changes to their biological clocks that prevent them from going to sleep early.

Senator Anthony Portantino, D-San Fernando, was effusive in praising Newsom for signing a bill that former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a year ago. Brown said start times should remain a local decision.

 “Today, Governor 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,” Portantino said in a statement. “Generations of children will come to appreciate this historic day and our Governor for taking bold action.”

Expressing disappointment, the California School Boards Association said the mandate “fails to respect parental decisions or consider the needs of local communities.” The research on later start times is inconclusive but the impact on families can be predicted, said spokesman Troy Flint. The bill “will disproportionately affect low-income families and prevent many students from working after school or from caring for their siblings,” he said, adding it could increase the need for childcare for “already cash-strapped families.”

When it goes into effect in 2022-23, the law will require middle schools to begin no earlier than 8 am and high schools to start regular classes after 8:30 am. The bill exempts rural districts because of bus scheduling challenges and also excludes “zero periods,” which are optional courses offered by some schools before the regular school day begins.

Newsom announced approval of Senate Bill 328 without comment in the last batch among hundreds of bills he signed and vetoed on the final day for signing for legislation passed last month.

Among the more than 100 vetoes that he issued on Sunday, the governor rejected education bills that would have:

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supported Portantino’s Senate Bill 328. They cited research that shows sleep deprivation leads to teen absenteeism, lower grades, higher dropout rates and depression.

“We took a really close look at this and asked the most important question: ‘What is best for our kids?’” said Carol Kocivar, legislative advocate for the California PTA. “The answer is absolutely clear. This affects every teenager in California, regardless of what zip code they live in.”

Among the opponents, the California Teachers Association, the Association of California School Administrators and the school boards association said that SB 328 would negatively affect before- and after-school programs and sports, union contracts and bus schedules. Many working parents tied to daily commute schedules would end up dropping their children off before school just the same, they argued.

“While well-intentioned, proposals to mandate school start times fail to take into account the complexity of the issue and perpetuate the illusion that adolescent sleep deprivation has a simple fix,” two San Jose superintendents, Chris Funk of East Side Union High School District and Nancy Albarrán of San Jose Unified, wrote in a commentary for EdSource. “Those of us working in school systems will tell you that setting school start and end times requires balancing many factors, including the needs of students, parents and staff as well as the financial impact on school districts.”

Portantino argued that it was appropriate for the Legislature to set minimum public health standards based on medical and biological research.

Based on a 2011-12 district survey by the federal government, an analysis by the Assembly Education Committee projected that one-fifth of California’s schools already comply with the bill; about one-half would need to delay their start times by 30 minutes or less, and about a quarter would need to increase their start time between a half-hour and an hour.

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