California late start law: Experts, parents weigh pros and cons of late school start time

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Tuesday, August 16, 2022
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Many local schools are now starting and ending classes later this year due to the implementation of a new state law. While the change is controversial among some parents, proponents of later start times say the goal is to allow students to get more sleep.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- At John W. North High School in Riverside, the final bell now rings at 3:21 p.m., precisely 30 minutes later than it did last year.

It's a similar situation at hundreds of high schools across Southern California, after the implementation of a new state law required high schools to begin classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and middle schools to begin classes no earlier than 8 a.m.

While the change is controversial among some parents, proponents of later start times say the goal is to allow students to get more sleep.

"The later start times will allow adolescents to get better quality sleep, which is going to improve their hormone balance, allows them to get deeper and better quality of sleep," said Dr. Stephanie Thompson, director of clinical operations at Lightfully Behavioral Health.

Thompson said she believes the later start times make students more alert, more focused and healthier, too.

"If we're able to get better sleep, and (allow the body to) digest better throughout the night, with 8-10 hours (of sleep) we'll see optimal weight management benefits during the day," Thompson said.

The later start times for high schools and middle schools come with the passage of Senate Bill 328, and implementation in most school districts was required by July 1, 2022.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, almost all high schools are now starting as early as they legally can: 8:30 a.m.

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So how much later are these start times than in previous years? It mostly depends on the size of the school. The average start time for high schools statewide was 8:04 a.m. back in 2012. For high schools with more than 1,000 students, the average start time was 7:52 a.m.

Some districts haven't implemented the new start times yet. For example, in the Inland Empire, some rural communities are facing logistical challenges when it comes to bus services.

"I think the implementation is a little harder in rural areas where transportation is so difficult in the high desert and mountains in our county, where it can take an hour to get students to school," said Ted Alejandre, the San Bernardino County superintendent of schools.

But while the change allows students to get more sleep, Dr. Debra Duardo, the Los Angeles County superintendent of schools said it can also present problems for parents.

"It's difficult. Some parents are saying I have to go to work earlier, and I need a place to send my child, or I have my elementary school students that start earlier and this is throwing off my routine," Duardo said.

Duardo also pointed out that with the later start times, after-school sports programs and extra-curricular activities will be starting that much later.

"It's going to be difficult for families to report to work at 8:00 a.m. when they have to also transport children to school at 9:00 a.m. and then be back to pick them up at 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m.," Duardo said.

Even with all things considered, Thompson says she is still in favor of the late start times.

"Honestly, I feel like the pros outweigh the cons," she said.