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California Becomes First in the Country to Mandate That High Schools and Middle Schools Start Later in the Morning

Students will soon no longer be bleary-eyed when they go to school. – File photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

The bill is based on over three decades of research on teen health, sleep patterns and brain chemistry

By Terry Miller

“Our kids win today as State Senator Anthony J. Portantino’s (D – La Cañada Flintridge) school start time bill SB 328 has been signed by Governor Gavin Newsom,” Portantino’s press release stated.

Senator Portantino has been in pursuit of a later school start time for years, having seen firsthand the effects of sleepy-eyed kids trying to stay awake in morning classes that start at 7 a.m.

For many students that start time meant skipping breakfast and getting ready for school before the sun even rises.

The new law will take effect over a phased-in period, ultimately requiring middle schools to begin classes at 8 a.m. or later while high schools will start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The law apparently doesn’t apply to optional early classes, known as “zero periods.”

While school schedules vary, a legislative analysis in July found that roughly half the schools in the state will be required to delay their start times by 30 minutes or less to comply with the law. An analysis of the 2011-2012 school year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the average start time for California schools attended by some 3 million middle school and high school students was 8:07 a.m. Some of the state’s students were required to be in class before 7:30 a.m.

California will become the first state in the country to mandate that high schools and middle schools start later in the morning. The bill is based on over three decades of research on teen health, sleep patterns and brain chemistry. SB 328 seeks to align school start times with the biology of teens. Overwhelming research shows that when the school day starts later, children are significantly healthier and perform better in school. The California PTA sponsored and supported SB 328. 

While pediatricians and researchers from across the country united behind the bill, it faced stiff opposition. That opposition led to a veto from Gov. Brown last year. This year, Gov. Newsom “appropriately” saw things differently and put children’s health and welfare at the forefront of education policy, according to Portantio’s office.

“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. Generations of children will come to appreciate this historic day and our Governor for taking bold action. Our children face a public health crisis. Shifting to a later start time will improve academic performance and save lives because it helps our children be healthier. The PTA, researchers, doctors, educational advocates and every parent and child who worked tirelessly and passionately on this three-year effort should take pride in what we have accomplished with the passage of SB 328. When I heard the good news I literally got choked up because of the overwhelming positive impact this will have on our children and for the deep appreciation for everyone who took this journey together. I am beyond excited that now our work begins to implement this necessary educational and public health reform,” commented Senator Portantino.

Beginning over three decades ago in Minneapolis, researchers began studying the brain chemistry of teens. They found that teens require almost 10 hours of sleep per night to be healthy but receive far less in today’s complicated society. By moving school start time later teens achieve more sleep and consequently are healthier and happier. 

Assemblymember Todd Gloria was a stalwart supporter of SB328 helping to shepherd it through the State Assembly. “I was very pleased to join this effort to prioritize our children’s health. I could not look at the overwhelming research behind SB328 and not be compelled to act. Students in San Diego and across California will enjoy more sleep and do better in school. It is rare you get to enact policy that will have such an immediate benefit which makes this even more important. As soon as schools start later our children and families will be healthier and happier,” added Assemblymember Gloria.

The coalition behind SB 328 is significant with representatives of law enforcement joining the PTA and the broad medical research community in support for the bill. SB 328 has a built-in three-year delay to give school districts ample time to shift their start time. Data shows that costs typically do not go up in relation to the time shift, but attendance does. This will bring additional ADA dollars to California schools so the bill is a win for both the students and schools.

“Senator Portantino has worked closely with the California PTA to put student health first in the conversation. We are grateful for his dedication to the late school start initiative and for the opportunity to partner with him on this effort. When teens get enough sleep, they are safer, healthier and do better in school. The California State PTA is proud to co-sponsor this bill and looks forward to helping implement this historic initiative across our state,” added Carol Kocivar, California State PTA.

October 17, 2019

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Terry Miller


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