Editorials

A smart way to put children first and make mornings less hectic

A teenager at Will Rogers Middle School tries hard to focus on the computer screen in this 2006 photo. A bill pending in California would do what researchers have long recommended – mandate a later start time in public schools.
A teenager at Will Rogers Middle School tries hard to focus on the computer screen in this 2006 photo. A bill pending in California would do what researchers have long recommended – mandate a later start time in public schools. Sacramento Bee file

Adults talk a good game in this state when it comes to children. From health care to higher education, we insist that kids come first.

Yet despite mounting scientific research, we have clung to a practice that damages the mental, physical and emotional health of adolescents, for no reason but to satisfy the financial and emotional desires of adults.

We need a later start time in California schools.

It’s no secret that teenagers are exhausted. Adults may humble-brag that kids today are freakishly ambitious, or sneer that they are snowflakes who don’t know the meaning of hard work.

But the truth is, schools didn’t always start this early. Prior to the 1970s, classes rarely began before 8:30 a.m.

SB 328 would prohibit middle schools and high schools from starting before 8:30 a.m., adding an average half-hour of student bedtime.

Since then, the first bell has rung ever earlier, the better to accommodate cheaper multiple bus routes, teachers unions and organized sports schedules. Never mind that a growing body of research has shown that adolescents physically require 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep nightly just to remain upright, and that their circadian wiring makes it almost impossible for them to fall asleep before 10:30 p.m.

Some California public high schools now start as early as 7 a.m. And while districts in this state can set later starts, rare are the trustees willing to disadvantage a sports team or invite a collective bargaining issue by ending school later than surrounding districts.

This is why a statewide shift is the only feasible solution, and why state lawmakers should support Senate Bill 328 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge.

SB 328 would prohibit middle schools and high schools from starting before 8:30 a.m., adding an average half-hour of student bedtime.

It’s not enough – the bill has exemptions for rural districts that can prove an earlier start will create economic hardship, and for the so-called “zero periods” that some schools offer prior to the official start of the school day. Nor are charter schools included.

But it’s a start, and districts that have tried a later start – Davis, for instance – report improved attendance, higher test scores, better student health, fewer car crashes, less drug use and, well, less nodding off in first-period math class.

Let’s, for once, truly put California kids first. It’s time for adults here to walk their talk.

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