Want to Start School Later? You May Want to Move to California
A landmark school start time bill would prevent starting the middle and high school day before 8:30 a.m.
California is poised to be the first state in the nation to ensure that teenagers can go to school without sacrificing a good night’s sleep. This week Senator Anthony Portantino’s landmark school start time bill crossed its first legislative hurdle with passage by the Senate Education Committee.
The bill, SB328, would help local districts ensure safe, healthy school hours by preventing middle and high schools from starting the school day before 8:30 a.m.
“This makes a big statement to the education community that the State Senate Education Committee is using sound and definitive research to put the best interests of our students first,” says Portantino. “Every school district around the country from every demographic and socioeconomic level that has moved teenage school start time later has seen a measurable, positive result for student achievement and student public health.”
Based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the bill has received support from the California Federation of Teachers, California Sleep Society, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Rio Americano High School Parent Engagement Group, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, Manhattan Beach Unified School District, Stanford University School of Medicine, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Start School Later, the University of Washington’s Department of Biology, and numerous individuals.
LEGISLATION TO HELP LOCAL DISTRICTS
The average school day for middle and high school students in California starts at 8:07 a.m., with commute times considerably earlier. These very-early hours were established largely to save money on bus costs before schools understood teen sleep needs and patterns. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 4 in 5 American secondary schools start the day before 8:30 a.m., with nearly 10% of high schools requiring attendance before 7:30 a.m.
Portantino’s bill would ensure that the more than 3 million public middle and high students in California can go to school at times that allow them to get a healthy night’s sleep, have time for breakfast, commute to school after sunrise, and arrive at school ready to learn. It would also be a model for many other states and municipalities around the country that have been unable to restore developmentally appropriate school hours on their own.
Even if the state set an earliest opening hour for schools, local school districts would still set their specific schedules. However, the legislation would make it easier for many of them to act on the strong body of scientific evidence showing that sleep, and school hours that allow for healthy sleep, are critical to health, safety, and academic achievement.
Parameters for developmentally appropriate school hours would be consistent with the many other state regulations for local districts, including requirements about the number of days and hours students must be in class. To date, however, no state has provided clear guidelines for safe, healthy school hours, although Maryland and New Jersey recently passed legislation to study or incentivize later school start times.
Last year, Maryland passed the “Orange Ribbon for Healthy Schools” bill to create a no-cost incentive program to recognize districts moving to later bell times. At the federal level, California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has also repeatedly introduced versions of a “ZZZ’s to A’s” Bill and Resolution to the U.S. Congress — all unsuccessful to date — proposing limits on the hours at which American high schools can begin required instruction.
MORE SLEEP = MORE SUCCESS
A large, broad, and consistent body of evidence shows that moving middle and high school bell times later gives more students more (and better) sleep and reduces rates of sleeping in class, mood swings, depression, stimulant and illegal drug use, and car crashes, as well as suspensions, tardies, absences, and drop-outs.
A recent study of 30,000 teenagers across 29 schools in 7 states showed that two years after moving bell times to 8:30 or later, the average graduation rate moved from 79% to 88%. According to study author Pamela McKeever, EdD, the study’s findings linking later bell times to improved attendance and graduation rates raise questions for school officials about “whether later start times are a mechanism for closing the achievement gap.”
In California, as in many states, improved attendance would also benefit districts financially because school funding is tied to attendance. By improving current attendance by just 1%, The Los Angeles Unified School District would gain an estimated $40 million per year, funds that could be re-invested in schools to benefit students.
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Terra Ziporyn Snider, PhD Executive Director and Co-Founder, Start School Later, Inc.; medical writer and historian, novelist, playwright
An earlier version of this story was published at www.huffingtonpost.com on February 16, 2017.