Capitol Alert

Let sleeping students lie? California bill pushes back school start time

Principals at California schools could soon find themselves wondering what time Gov. Gavin Newsom’s kids wake up.

For the second time in two years, California lawmakers are advancing a bill that would forbid K-12 schools from starting class earlier than 8:30 a.m.

They argue that later start times would improve academic performance and students’ mental health. The bill’s opponents counter that a state law mandating certain school start times would disrupt family schedules and create burdens for school districts.

Last year, former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the proposal and called it “one-size-fits-all approach.”

“These are the types of decisions best handled in the local community,” Brown wrote.

Advocates for later start times are trying again, and hoping Newsom will think differently. The new governor is a father to four kids under age 10.

“The facts and results are unequivocal and clear; our teens are healthier and perform better when school starts later. I strongly believe test scores will go up and suicidal thoughts will go down. It’s time to embrace this public health issue and put our children’s wellbeing first,” said Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, who wrote last year’s and this year’s proposals.

Portantino’s proposal again has drawn strong opinions from a variety of parent, medical, teacher and school administrator organizations. Some of them have unexpected positions on the bill.

The Fresno Unified School District, for instance, supports Portantino’s bill. Fresno County’s Clovis Unified School District opposes it.

The California state Parent Teachers Association favors a law mandating later start times. The California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teacher union, opposes one.

Organizations representing police chiefs, pediatricians and psychiatrists want later school start times.

“We can get more counselors. We can do everything else, but why are we struggling against the biology” by letting schools set early morning start times, said Democratic Sen. Richard Pan, who is doctor.

School boards want to retain local control.

“Mandating later start times will create an incredible hardship for single-income families,” Natomas Unified School District Trustee Scott Dosick told lawmakers last month.

Portantino’s proposal passed the Senate Education Committee last month by a 4-2 vote and has another hearing scheduled for May 13.

More than three-quarters of all California schools, nearly 79 percent, start classes before 8:30 a.m., according to an analysis of the bill. A third of all schools, 31 percent, start before 8 a.m.

Teens who get less than eight hours of sleep are much more likely to report symptoms of depression, greater use of caffeine and the possible abuse of controlled substances. Lack of sleep also can contribute to poor driving and school performance.

The bill could cause problems for parents and guardians of schoolchildren whose schedules are set around the existing school routine and which could be difficult to change. Pushing back the start time also would impact after-school, extra-curricular activities, including athletic events, causing them to run later in the day.

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