Psychologists, pediatricians, sleep experts and educators have raised awareness about the benefits for adolescents of starting school later in the day. This issue has now caught the attention of legislators in California. A bill (SB-328) to delay start times in California middle and high schools to no earlier than 8:30 a.m. has cleared the Assembly Education Committee. The average start time across all California schools now is 8:07 a.m., with nearly 10 percent of high schools requiring attendance before 7:30 a.m. Some schools require attendance for regular classes before 7 a.m., and bus runs begin as early as 5:15 a.m.
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Anthony Portantino, said that 400 districts throughout the country have adopted a later start time and have seen grades and attendance improve dramatically. Additionally, he says that car accidents (number one killer of teens in America), sports injuries, obesity and drug use goes down.
A growing number of health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Medical Association (AMA), and, most recently, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) support later school starts for adolescents. The American Association for Sleep Medicine (AASM) recently published a position statement in the Journal of Clinical Sleep stating that too-early start times clash with the sleep, health, and learning needs of adolescents. Similar statements have been issued in recent years by many other national health, education and civic organizations. The University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (2014) found that students who sleep eight or more hours are less likely to have depression, fall asleep in class, drink caffeine or engage in dangerous behavior. One study (McKeever, 2017) of 300,000 teens across 29 schools in7 states showed when start times moved to 8:30 a.m. or later, attendance and graduation rates rose (the average graduation rate moved from 79% to 88%). Additionally, improved attendance also benefits school financially because school funding is tied to attendance.
Opponents of the bill, including the California School Board Association say that a “one size fits all” does not work for all schools in a state as large as California. Many parents do not have the flexibility to adjust their work schedules and may not have safe places for their kids to go when they leave for work. One Assemblyman pointed out that kids with parents who have rigid work schedules will have to get up anyway. Sleep researchers at U.C. Davis have expressed concern that promoters of the bill are overselling the benefits. One of the Davis researchers pointed out a simpler remedy for teenagers’ lack of sleep: turn off their devices.
Schools in Davis and Sacramento have already moved to a later start time. A final vote could be coming in August or September. If the bill becomes law, it would go into effect July of 2020, making California the first state to legislate state-wide school start times.