California is the first state to mandate later start times for middle and high school students after Gov. Gavin Newsom, siding with pediatricians and the Parent Teacher Association, signed Senate Bill 328, according to the Los Angeles Times. Teacher unions and groups representing school boards and superintendents opposed the bill.
The legislation was based on medical research that shows early school start times contribute to the sleep deprivation of teens, whose biological clocks keep them up later at night. The new law requires that middle school start no earlier than 8 a.m. and high school start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
The law excludes rural districts due to transportation logistics and optional “zero periods” that begin before the school day starts. The later start times go into effect at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been outspoken proponents of later school start times for high school students. The organizations cite research demonstrating lack of sleep leads to lower grades, higher dropout rates and depression. An EducationNext study shows teen math scores go up by 8% — or the equivalent of three months of learning — when they start school one hour later. Similarly, reading scores go up by 6% of a standard deviation.
A study of Seattle Public School students showed when start times were pushed to 8:45 a.m., teens used that extra hour to get more sleep. The average amount of sleep among teens in the study grew from six hours and 50 minutes to seven hours and 24 minutes.
California is the first state to mandate the change, but some individual districts have already done the same. In Ohio, Cincinnati Public Schools, for example, decided to push high school start times from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. over the next three years. One benefit of the later start time sited by officials is that it will be light in the morning when students walk to school, noting 13 students were struck by vehicles during the last school year and two died.
Cincinnati officials said changing the start times would cost $50 million, but a new school transportation director resolved the problem.
The Grand Prairie Independent School District in Texas, Vernon Township School District in New Jersey and Orange County Public Schools in Florida are all considering similar actions.
Despite the research backing the change, adjusting starts times has proven difficult. Last year, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar proposal, saying those decisions should be made at the local level.