California Mandates Later School Start Times

October 22, 2019 Updated: October 22, 2019

Most California students will soon get to sleep in a little longer under a new law that mandates later school start times.

Under Senate Bill 328, school will start no earlier than 8:00 a.m. for elementary and middle school students and no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for high school students by the beginning of the 2022-2023 academic year. The new law does not apply to rural school districts and excludes optional courses, known as “zero periods,” which start before the regular school day.

About one-fifth of the California’s schools already comply with the new law. Approximately 50 percent of the schools would need to push back their start times by a half-hour and about 25 percent would need to start the school day a half-hour to an hour earlier.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at the California State Capitol on March 13, 2019 in Sacramento, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 328 into law on Oct. 13 after it was passed by a 44-20 vote in the California State Assembly and by 24-9 vote in the state Senate.

Similar legislation was voted down in the state Legislature two years ago. Last year, former Gov. Jerry Brown said local school boards should set start times for their own districts, and vetoed it.

According to its author, Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), SB 328 is based on recommendations of the American Academy and Pediatricians and the Centers for Disease Control, among other groups.

“These organizations issued their recommendations after reviewing extensive academic research on the sleep science and biology of teens and concluding that our children’s well-being deserves to be the primary focus when setting school start time,” Portantino stated in support of the bill.

“There is overwhelming evidence that moving high school and middle school start time later in the day increases academic performance and the public health of teenage students. It is appropriate and consistent for the State Legislature to enact minimum public health standards based on medical and biological research.”

Supporters cited studies showing sleep deprivation among high school students can lead to more tardiness, missed classes, lower grades, higher dropout rates, depression and behavioral problems. Registered support for the bill includes the American Academy of Pediatrics, California and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Californian Police Chiefs Association, including Parent-Teacher Associations, and health care organizations.

Opponents consist mainly of parents, teachers’ unions, school boards and superintendents.

Troy Flint, a spokesman for the California School Boards Association (CSBA), told The Epoch Times the new law will affect many families that can’t afford extra child care costs, and hinder some high school students from working after school.

Some parents will be faced with either asking their employers if they can start work later, finding a new job that is more flexible, or paying for child care, he said.

“Not everyone has the option of coming in later … and that’s especially true for people who work in retail, many service-industry professions, trades, labor jobs and contracting,” Flint said. “It’s unlikely that they will be permitted a delayed arrival at work because of this law, and this law certainly doesn’t provide for that or offer any sort of incentive for employers to change their practices. So, all of the onus falls on families—parents particularly—to make accommodations, and they don’t have a lot of attractive options.”

Later school start times also mean high school students will get out of school a half-hour later than their younger brothers and sisters in elementary or middle school.

“That creates complications for child care where the elder siblings take care of the younger siblings,” Flint said. “If the older child is not getting out of school until after the elementary schools have released the younger children, families will no longer be able to rely on the older brothers and sisters to take care of their younger siblings and will have to find some other arrangement. That’s a hardship for families at a time when child care is exorbitantly expensive.”

The new rules won’t make it any easier on many high school students who work part-time in the evening.

“This will make it harder for kids to get jobs after school. By the time kids get out of school, their employment opportunities will be limited because it will be so late in the afternoon,” Flint said.

SB 328 will also affect extra-curricular activities, especially outdoor sports in the late fall, winter and early spring when daylight is scarce, he said.

And, because of their parents’ work schedules, many students would be dropped off at school at the same time in the morning anyway, which means they won’t be getting more sleep.

“That means you’re going to have to have staff there to supervise potentially large numbers of students before the school day begins,” which could cause safety concerns, create higher staffing costs and present problems in labor negotiations, Flint said.

Students finishing school later in the afternoon could also result in more school buses on the road during times of heavier traffic, he said.

Flint pointed to Antelope Valley School District as an example of a district that implemented later start times, experienced problems and then abandoned the policy.

“We’re not opposed to later start times,” Flint said. “We’re just opposed to a one-size-fits-all unfunded mandate that doesn’t take into account the differences in each community.”

While he acknowledged the power struggle between Sacramento and local school boards, Flint said there is good reason for it.

“Local control is certainly an issue, but it’s an issue for a very practical reason. California is an extremely large, incredibly diverse state with communities that have different needs and interests, and decisions of this type are best made in the local community in concert with the stakeholders of the school district—the students, parents and families—because they’re the ones who have the best knowledge of the particular situation in their communities and what the real-world impacts would be,” Flint said.

Flint pointed out that two sleep researchers at UC Davis—Ian Campbell, Ph.D. and Irwin Feinberg, MD—wrote a letter in August opposing the bill.

“We oppose this bill primarily due to our belief that the sleep research community does not fully understand the long-term effects of school start time changes and does not fully understand the biological changes that produce adolescent sleepiness,” the letter said.
“Our basic position is that the research on sleep studies is not very broad in terms of looking at the real-world impacts that you’re going to see in various communities,” Flint said. “Those studies are not reflective of the 1,000 different school districts that we have in California.”

Newsom vetoed several education-related bills recently, including:

• AB 28 which called for the establishment of “a State Seal of STEM to recognize high school graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.”
• AB 197, which proposed mandatory full-day kindergarten for all children; and
• AB 500, which would have required K-12 school districts and community colleges to offer employees six full weeks of pay for maternity leave.