How will Sacramento-area schools adjust to later start times? Clock is ticking under new law

The morning drill for many Sacramento-area middle and high schools will get some major adjustments under a new law signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The legislation, signed Friday, prohibits California middle schools from starting before 8 a.m., and high schools from starting before 8:30 a.m.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, the La Cañada Flintridge Democrat who wrote Senate Bill 328, said it was based on “indisputable” science that shows students are healthier and happier they when get to sleep in a little later.

One study, using student and school data from the Florida Department of Education, suggests that later start times could increase students’ math and reading scores.

But more shut-eye for students could mean more stress for local school districts, which have until 2022 to complete the changes. Some Sacramento-area high schools begin classes nearly an hour before the new 8:30 start time.

Big changes in Elk Grove, Folsom

The nine high schools in Elk Grove Unified, the region’s largest school district, are among those that will require extensive schedule adjustments. Campuses including Laguna Creek and Sheldon high start classes at 7:45 a.m.

Elk Grove Unified officials say they anticipate school will end later in the day, and more bus routes and drivers will be needed as the number of students relying on transportation could rise.

The district – like many others around the state – expressed opposition to the bill, arguing that schedule decisions should be made at the local level.

“The new law is an unfunded mandate and it is vague,” Elk Grove Unified spokeswoman Xanthi Pinkerton said in a statement to The Sacramento Bee. “In order to implement it, additional regulations will be required as well as additional unfunded resources.”

Elk Grove Unified officials said they don’t know what the regulations will mean for the district until they are drafted.

“Because every school has its own uniqueness and different set of scenarios, until we see the regulations, it’s hard to say what the impact will be on the variety of programs and services that are offered at each school,” Pinkerton said.

Laurel Harris Kipp, who will have a high school senior and seventh-grader when the law goes into effect, said she is conflicted about it.

“I’m glad my kids will be able to sleep a little more than they do now, but I worry what this new law will do with school end times,” she said. “The kids will still have sports, extracurricular activities and homework. If they can’t go to bed at a decent time, then it defeats the entire purpose.”

To the east in Folsom, some parents echoed those sentiments. All three high schools in Folsom Cordova Unified start classes at 8 a.m.

Folsom parent Rochelle Middleton Peterson said she’s irritated with the new law because Folsom Cordova Unified has already done a good job scheduling start times throughout the district. Her children play sports, she said, so delaying the start time will mean they will come home later in the evening.

Mixed bag for some districts

Some schools, like Sacramento City Unified’s C.K. McClatchy High School, start at 8:20, and will need to make minimal adjustments when the law goes into effect.

The Sacramento City district did not take an position on the bill, officials said, but several of its schools will need to adjust their schedules.

Rocklin Unified officials said five of their 17 school sites will be affected by the new law, and like all districts, they are still determining how to implement the changes.

“We recently engaged our community in a conversation about later start times for our RUSD middle and high schools,” read a statement from Rocklin Unified.

“This exhaustive process included forums, surveys and other activities with parents, caregivers, students and employees. The idea of a later start time was not supported by our RUSD community and is largely seen by our district as an example of both our state Legislature and governor attempting to take away local control from communities.”

Emilee Scott, an eighth-grader at Creative Connection Arts Academy, a Twin Rivers Unified charter school, already starts her classes at 8:30 a.m. The new law will be implemented in charter schools as well.

“It gives me a longer time to get ready,” Scott said. “If I started at 7:30, I would feel a lot more rushed, and I would have to take a shower at night. It would be more hectic.”

Scott typically goes to bed between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. A later start time for all California students, she said, would mean not only more sleep, but more time to commute to schools outside of their neighborhoods.

Getting ahead of the changes

In anticipation of the law, San Juan Unified School District started asking families for their input several years ago. The district now plans to implement the change by adjusting its schedule a few minutes each year for three years.

The new law affects all nine of San Juan Unified’s high schools, some of which start as early as 7:55 a.m. Seven of the district’s middle schools will need to start classes 10 to 20 minutes later than currently scheduled.

More than 7,000 people shared their thoughts with the district in a 2016 survey. The majority of parents supported later start times, citing advantages like more sleep, calmer mornings, and easier drop-off routines.

But many parents said the new law will be harder for working parents and families managing multiple start times. Several also were concerned that the later start times won’t prepare teens for the real world, according to the survey.

The district also said elementary schools may need to adjust their schedules to accommodate transportation needs.

Like most districts, San Juan Unified officials said it’s too early to know which schools will be impacted by transportation issues and after-school activities.

It’s unclear how the region’s K-8 schools will implement the new law, which applies to middle school but not elementary school grades.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.