State legislature seeks to mandate later school start

On February 13, 2017, California State Senator Anthony Portantino introduced Senate Bill 328, which amends the California Education Code to require middle and high schools to start no later than 8:30. The bill, which is co-authored by Senator Richard Pan, mirrors a proposal that the San Mateo Union High School District Board voted to not pass in a four-to-one decision last spring.

The March 23rd meeting, during which the board made a decision to not implement a late start for each of the schools it governs, which includes Burlingame High School, was the subject of copious amounts of public comment. The public spoke for over two hours with universal condemnation of the proposal to alter start times. Trustee Marc Friedman was the sole member of the board to support the proposal.

Friedman, who testified in front of the Assembly Education Committee in support of SB-328, stands by his support of implementing a later start, telling the B that “the science is overwhelming that later start times will benefit adolescent students.”

In a June 2016 press release issued by the American Medical Association, the association called “on school districts across the United States to implement middle and high school start times no earlier than 8:30 a.m.”

The AMA traces its recommendation to research that claims “sleep deprivation may result in hypertension, metabolic disorders (including diabetes) and impaired immune function.”

However, the AMA does not present research connecting schools that have implemented later school start times to improved student success or health.

On May 5, 2017, the bill passed with 25 ayes and 13 noes on the Senate floor. State Senator Jerry Hill, who represents the San Francisco Peninsula, voted in favor of the bill. On Sept. 1, 2017, SB-328 passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee with 12 committee members voting aye. The bill was amended on Sept. 5 to extend the mandate to all charter schools while also clarifying the date at which the legislation would go into effect. The previous July 1, 2020, deadline for schools to adopt the policy was amended to allow for districts with district wide collective bargaining agreements that are set to expire after that date to adopt the policy once the agreement ends. Although the bill failed to pass in an assembly floor vote on Sept. 14 it is likely that the bill will recieve additional consideration and votes in January.

At the board meeting last spring, many of the parents who attended to plead their case to the board discussed traffic concerns, specifically in communities where changing the start time later would cause the commute to high school to coincide with the beginning of other schools in the area. In Burlingame, the public elementary and middle schools start at 8:30. In communities such as San Mateo and Foster City, parents reported personal experiences of increased commute times when attempting to drive to school later in the morning.

Sophomore Diana Milne said that although she, in theory, would support an effort by lawmakers to allow students to sleep more she does not think the bill would benefit her.

“I would have to get up early because I would have to walk to school,” Milne said. “I can’t get a ride if the start time is later.”

Milne’s justification for her disapproval of the bill was echoed by many working parents at the board meeting last spring who claimed that a delayed start would disproportionately affect families with working parents, whose obligations prevent them from accommodating a later drop off time.

Burlingame High School Principal Paul Belzer told the B that although he has not yet read the bill thoroughly enough to pass judgment on it says that he prefers “local bodies to make decisions.”

Although Belzer, who attended the board meeting last spring, acknowledges the importance of public opinion, he argues “that sometimes the board needs to make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the students.”

Belzer’s assertion echoes the sentiment of Friedman who, during the meeting of the board, questioned the boards apprehension to implement a mandatory later start by saying “how could we [the Board], after seeing the research, could look the public in the eye and not do this.”

The bill, if approved by the Assembly next year, still faces a potential veto by Governor Jerry Brown, whose opinion on the proposed legislation has not been made clear to the public.

Posted on September 26, 2017 .