Lawmakers approve limit on how early school day can start

California middle and high schools may be required by law to start no sooner than 8:30 a.m. if Gov. Brown signs off on a bill passed through state legislature Friday.
(Photo: Adrian Sampson/Flickr)

SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers have approved a mandate limiting the start time of middle and high schools to no earlier than 8:30 a.m., sending the bill to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown.

The bill, SB 328, is part of an effort to better align school start times with teens’ sleep cycles. Supporters say that research shows later start times mean a better night’s sleep for students — and that sleep deprivation has a negative impact on their academic performance and mental health.

Opponents argue that it should be up to teachers and school boards to set the schedule based on local needs, and that starting school later could make it hard on working parents to drop their kids off on time.

The same measure died last year when it failed to pass through the state Senate.

San Diego’s Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-Oceanside) was unhappy to see the bill fail. “If you know that something is good for kids, if you know they will do better in school as a result, if it is scientifically proven, how can we not accept that and figure out a way to help our locals make it work?” she said at the time, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Shortly before the bill passed Friday, she signaled her support for late starts again, with a tweet referencing the research on sleep and teens:

Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (R-Long Beach) was among the critics of the bill. “We should not micromanage schools from Sacramento,” he said during floor debate, according to the SF Chronicle. “Why have a school district if we are going to pass this bill? SB328 will burden working families.”

The new mandate does not apply to “zero period,” an extra period offered before the start of the regular school day for students, often to accommodate sports and other extracurricular activities. It also won’t apply to some rural schools, where there were public concerns about farming schedules.

If approved by Brown, California schools would have about three years to make the change.

In May, the San Diego Unified School Board passed its own resolution to implement high school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later by the 2020-21 school year, the Union-Tribune reported.

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