California could require schools to start class later


California junior and high school students may be able to sleep in later if the state legislature gets its way.

The California Legislature recently approved SB-328, which would require public middle and high schools to start classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Supporters said students perform better academically when they get an extra hour of sleep. They point to extensive research which shows students excel when they start school later in the morning. In a book titled "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing" by Daniel Pink, the author points out that "early start times correlate strongly with worse grades and lower test scores, especially in math and language." Pink goes on to write, "The evidence of harm is so massive that in 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement calling for middle schools and high schools to begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m."

But opponents said the school schedule should be left up to local school districts. They said and it would force parents to rearrange their mornings to get their kids to school later, and would force kids to stay later in the day, delaying after school programs and sports. They also argue that students would return home later, forcing them to stay up later to finish homework. They say the result would be no additional sleep time.

Governor Jerry Brown has until the end of September to decide whether to sign the bill into law and make California the first to mandate start times.

Chico High School currently begins class at 8 a.m., and Pleasant Valley High School in Chico begins the day at 7:45 a.m.. Chico Unified School Superintendent Kelly Staley said she believes sleep is important, but is concerned about the impact the change would have on after-school events.

"Currently over 50 percent of secondary students are involved in extra-curricular activities, most of which take place after school," said Staley. "As a later start time would force a later end of school time, this would result in a later start time for those activities. Consequently, students would arrive home later. My hope would be that Governor Brown would continue to promote local control and allow local School Boards to make the decision that is best for their local community after a close study of the impacts of a change."

Ryan Johnson is the principal at Enterprise High School in Redding where the opening bell currently rings at 7:36 a.m. He sees the later start time as a positive change.

"Personally, I am in support of the idea and have been for a while," said Johnson. "I think the science is clear it can have a positive effect on student achievement. No doubt, school would have to adjust many things in the wake of such a change, but I think the flexibility would be warranted."

Jim Cloney is the superintendent of the Shasta Union High School District. He said he would prefer the decision be left up to local districts, not mandated at the state level.

"The research on learning and sleep among teens is pretty clear that later school start times could lead to better achievement," said Cloney. "However, the logistics involved in a comprehensive high school program with extracurricular activities and transportation (among other things) make starting school later a difficult proposition. Obviously, if the legislation is signed by Gov. Brown we will make the necessary changes, but those changes will likely have a negative impact on our athletic and extracurricular programs. Personally, I also believe it would be counter to Gov. Brown's consistent position with previous education legislation where I believe he has consistently favored the local control of school boards to make these decisions."

Judy Flores, Shasta County Superintendent of Schools, said she recently read Daniel Pink's book which advocates for later school start times.

"I find it hard to argue with this kind of research as well as the evidence found in other states and communities who have implemented later start times," said Flores. "It does seem extreme to have the state dictate this change rather than allow districts control when so much of what we hear is the idea of local control for education issues"

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