Thursday, April 2, 2020
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Will later school start times come to California?

Not this year.

The California state senate passed SB 328, which would have prohibited the state’s middle and high schools from beginning classes before 8:30 AM, except for “zero hour,” but the assembly rejected it just before adjourning sine die until January, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Not that anybody cares what I say, but I have reported about this issue countless times on these pages. Every medical authority under the sun has stated, in no uncertain terms, that adolescents don’t get enough sleep, that it’s affecting their health, and that later school start times would help because starting later would bring teens’ school schedules into better alignment with their bodies’ circadian rhythms.

But the teachers’ union in California, the superintendents, and just this week, the lower chamber in the state legislature, have come out resoundingly opposed to SB 328. They say it takes away local control from schools and school districts.

And it does, but taking this control away from schools is a moral imperative. If schools truly want to control schedules themselves, districts across the state should listen to scientists and medical experts and do right by kids. Then there wouldn’t be a need for lawmakers to step in.

Maryland adopted a middle-ground law two legislative sessions ago, an act that gives special recognition to schools that positively adjust their schedules to be more accommodating of their students’ biological clocks. It’s encouragement, not a mandate.

“I think it’s better if we start a little bit later,” the Wolfpacket quoted English teacher Tamara Nicoll at Claremont High School in California as saying. “For most people in their adolescent years, sleep deprivation is largely because they don’t shut down early enough at night to get an adequate amount of sleep before they come to school.

“So I think we could move the start time of the school day so that it’s more amenable to students getting enough sleep. I would be all for it. It would be good for them academically, emotionally, and socially,” the student newspaper quoted her as saying earlier this week.

There are, as with any change, students who may think they wouldn’t be able to adjust. One student expressed concern that, since her parents have inflexible work schedules, she might not be able to get a ride to the school. Ye of little faith.

The change could also bring economic benefits. A study by the Rand Corporation last month declared that although changing to later start times may require adjustment—bus schedules, athletic practices, and so on—and incur some costs, it would pay off in much-improved educational outcomes and economic gains from those better outcomes. “Even after just two years, the study projects an economic gain of $8.6 billion to the US economy, which would already outweigh the costs per student from delaying school start times to 8:30 AM.”

As far as a mandate from Sacramento is concerned, this one fell into the category of exceptions to that rule because it would have positively affected student health and well-being. If schools fail to act on their own—as we’ve seen in California—lawmakers have a moral obligation to step in and help students stay healthy, alert, and well-rested (as much as they can).

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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