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San Diego Unified votes to explore later school start times

SAN DIEGO -- San Diego Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to assist middle schools and high schools that want to start classes later.

The board voted to give more information to schools about the benefits and logistical issues of moving the school start time to 8:30 a.m. or later.

The policy change is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which conducted a study that said it would improve the health of teenage students by aligning school schedules to their biological sleep rhythms.

"The fact is that two out of three students are sleep deprived and we all know what sleep deprivation can do,"  board member John Lee Evans said.

Evans, who is in favor of the change, said the plan is not to abruptly do a district-wide schedule overhaul, but rather let individual schools decide if the option works for their staff, students and parents. They would then go through a process to request the change to the school district, the second- largest in the state.

Dozens of students, parents and teachers spoke in favor of the proposal at Tuesday's board meeting, saying it would benefit their involvement in extracurricular activities, their academic performance and would allow them to have more energy and be more alert during morning classes.

"Early school start times are doing great harm to students in the school district," Beth McNeil, a parent, said. "Those kids who work jobs until late at night, those kids who have to get on the bus at 6 a.m., they are harmed the most by early school times."

Randy Hahn, a father of two teenagers, said it's not only about academics but also balance.

"I think it’s a trick question. You’re being asked to get a certain amount of rest but then you’re asked to get up at 6:45 in the morning to make sure you’re at school at 7:30," said Hahn.

Critics of the policy change point to a schedule mismatch with bus schedules and a potential inconvenience for working parents. Evans still said the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, adding the change would improve students physical and emotional health.

"It's not going to be a simple change, logistically and with what is possible within the existing resources, Evans added. It's a complicated puzzle to gradually get schools on a later start time. But let's look at it through the point of view of what is best for the students."

Board member Michael McQuary said the science and documentation is already available in support of later school start times.

"I don't think it's about finding new information, but rather on how do we do it," McQuary said.