Rise and Shine: Should the State Mandate Later School Start Times for Middle and High School with SB 328?

Who doesn’t love to hit the snooze button in the morning? Middle and high schoolers across California might have a real opportunity to get some much needed sleep if the State Assembly votes to mandate a later school start time for all schools. According to the 2014 School Health Policies and Practices Study, 93% of high schools and 83% of middle schools in the U.S. start before 8:30 a.m. Based on recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control, Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge) introduced SB 328 requiring middle schools and high schools in California to start the school day no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

The research behind the impact of sleep deprivation is intriguing, yet it is important to consider the implications for all stakeholders, especially within our Latino communities, when making such a momentous decision. Here is an overview of both sides of the debate.

In support of the bill:

It’s no surprise teenagers do not get enough sleep. Just ask any teacher who spends half of first period performing a song and dance just trying to help students keep their eyes open. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that teenagers aged 13 to 18 years should regularly sleep 8 to 10 hours per day for good health but find that teens are typically averaging less than 7 hours a night. Senator Portantino states,

“The leaders of local school districts are or should be well aware that requiring students – especially adolescents – to wake, travel to school, and learn during early morning hours is contrary to the developmental needs and biological sleep cycles of growing minds and bodies.”

Supporters, including the CA Federation of Teachers, AFT, AFL-CIO, further state that,

“Research clearly indicates that insufficient sleep, particularly for middle school and high school students, can have a negative impact on student learning…..the American Psychological Association reports that school districts that have adopted policies to start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m. have found increased attendance rates, grade point averages and student engagement.”

Students who don’t get the recommended number of hours of sleep are more susceptible to:

  • Be overweight.
  • Not engage in daily physical activity.
  • Suffer from symptoms of depression.
  • Engage in unhealthy risk behaviors such as drinking, smoking tobacco, and using illicit drugs.
  • Perform poorly in school.

Obviously, moving bell times is an important piece of a larger puzzle of ensuring that adolescents get the sleep they need so they can avoid the negative outcomes above. However, it will not put more hours in the day, so it is important for us to teach teens about their sleep needs so they can make conscious decisions about getting to bed at a reasonable time. Many teens are used to functioning with a lack of sleep, but sleep is not a luxury; it is biologically necessary. If we can integrate sleep research into educational efforts, teens will be able to maximize their brain’s potential at a time that is most conducive.

In opposition to the bill:

Adjusting school start times does not guarantee that all teenagers will get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep and the implications of this change could be staggering for school communities who have been historically marginalized.

Some of the concerns regarding a later school start time are:

  • Parents’ work schedules may not easily align with the new start time.
  • Arranging child care for younger children before and after school may be more difficult.
  • Students might have difficulty arriving on time to after-school employment.
  • Transportation costs will increase significantly.
  • Participation in after-school activities may decline.
  • Athletic schedules that may result in a student athlete missing part of a class at the end of the day.
  • Because they get up later in the morning, teens may choose to stay up later at night.

As a former teacher and principal who used to open the school gate at 7:00 a.m. with my army of students who had been dropped off by parents rushing to make it to work on time, I understand the need to provide a safe space for children to support our working parents who are on a tight schedule. Additionally, many Latino high-schoolers work after-school to provide extra support for their families and a later school end time could reduce their hours of employment.  

What works for one school community may not work for another. Opponents, including the California School Boards Assoc., California Teachers Assoc., and California Charter School Assoc., state that,

“While [we support] the right of locally-elected governing boards, with knowledge of the students and families they serve to explore and adopt later school start times, we oppose the one-size-fits-all approach of SB 328. Public schools are acutely aware of the need to address the whole child in order to educate students. …The research presented by proponents does not compare the impact of an 8:30 a.m. start time to the other interventions school boards routinely consider.”

In communities where later school start times might not be feasible, I challenge us to consider alternate solutions during the school day that can help to address many of the concerns associated with sleep deprivation. If we could re-allocate the money saved in transportation costs to school instructional initiatives and materials, hiring of high quality culturally competent teachers, and holistic programs that would provide social and emotional supports, then we might be onto something bigger than just hitting snooze on an alarm clock.

Here are a few questions I would ask the State Assembly members and their constituents to consider:

How does this legislation impact communities that have been historically marginalized?

How are we providing and maximizing current resources in schools to help balance cognitive, psychological, social, emotional, and physical needs of students?

How is this bill addressing equity across communities?

What do you think?

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Ingrid Twyman

Ingrid Twyman

Dr. Ingrid Twyman is a former middle-school teacher, principal, instructional coach, and teacher residency director who served Latino students and families in the Northeast Los Angeles and Northeast San Fernando communities for over 16 years. As a current educational consultant, she is extremely passionate about building teacher and leader capacity to enact culturally responsive pedagogy and create cultures of equity.

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