Later start times for all California middle and high schools

Pixabay

Pixabay

California middle and high schools are the first in the nation to be required to start school no earlier than 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., respectively, according to ABCNews in a story aired on April 3, 2022. Senate Bill 328, which mandated the later start times, was signed into law on Oct. 13, 2019 but went into effect on July 1, 2022.

The only exception to this bill are middle and high schools in rural school districts. The law defines rural schools as those that meet any of the following three criteria:

  • The school district or charter school is located in a county with a total population of 70,000 people or fewer.
  • At least 50 percent of the schools maintained by the school district, or the charter school, are designated as ‘rural’ under the federal Universal Service E-rate program.
  • The school district or charter school is eligible to receive grants under the federal Small, Rural School Achievement program or another federal grant program in which eligibility is determined based on a ‘rural’ designation.

This late school start time discussion is not new. A 2014 paper published by the American Academy of Pediatrics said that the secretion of melatonin changes during puberty, making adolescents more nocturnal. Therefore, when teenagers are falling asleep around 11 p.m., school should start no earlier than 8 a.m. for students to get enough sleep, the study recommended.

In an NPR interview, Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley, explained how later start times have a long list of benefits.

“Academic grades increase, truancy rates decrease, behavioral and psychological problems decrease. Psychiatric referrals also decrease,” he said. “[Schools that push back their] start times by at least an hour have shown a big reduction in teen car crashes, up to 70%.”

For Lia Durso, a senior at Mira Loma High School, the later high school start time, now 30 minutes later than last year, has allowed her to get more sleep and focus better in the classroom. However, while she shared that later start times mean later end times for schools, Durso feels that this is not a large concern compared to the benefits.

“I think [the later start time] lets students have a less stressful morning and makes it easier to stay focused at school. I feel a lot more relaxed and it makes it easier to concentrate on schoolwork for the rest of the day,” Durso said. “The only thing that might be inconvenient is how school ends later now, but I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a problem or issue.”

While there are strong supporters of the bill, there is also a serious opposition. In a Jan. 25, 2022 CalMatters commentary, Jeremy Adams, a Bakersfield High School teacher, strongly criticized the later start times. He said problems will include extra costs for school districts to hire more bus drivers instead of staggering start times, parents whose work schedules will no longer match up with dropping off their children, and school days that end in darkness in the winter.

“Ultimately, this law will become a case study in ‘unintended consequences,’” said Adams. “For the sake of everyone who works or attends a California high school, please put the brakes on before it is too late.”

Ailsa Perrou, a senior at Mira Loma High School, agrees with this perspective on the bill. She explained that the later start time brings on a wide range of issues and does not have the expected benefits. For Perrou, the 8:30 a.m. start time has led to more traffic and not an extra 30 minutes of sleep.

“Personally, I dislike the later start time. Due to the distance I live away from school, I am not able to leave home any later without hitting so much traffic that I am late to school everyday. While the idea of 30 more minutes of sleep is nice, unfortunately I can’t benefit from this,” Perrou said. “I wake up at the same time as last year. Also, because I have siblings, occasionally with their earlier start time in elementary school, I actually have ended up losing an hour of sleep.”

For Perrou, not just mornings are impacted by the later start time. Getting out of school later means later sports practices, less opportunities to work, and traffic coming back home.

“I am concerned about game days because our early outs will remain the same times as last year but we are getting out of school later so I will be missing more class time,” she said. “Additionally, by having a later start time, my sports last later into the night and I am unable to work as much as I would like because I can’t make it to any after school shifts. I also don’t get home until about 4:30 or 5 p.m. everyday, and I hit a lot more traffic than I used to because everyone is getting off work.”