California Becomes First U.S. State To Mandate Later School Start Times

Schools have about three years to adjust under the law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Some California schoolchildren will soon get to sleep later in the mornings, thanks to legislation signed into law on Sunday by Gov. Gavin Newsom that mandates later start times at most public schools.

The new law, which acknowledges research showing that teens perform better when they start later than schools now typically begin, will make California the first U.S. state with this requirement once the law is fully implemented, the Los Angeles Times noted.

Impacted schools will need to begin the new start times — 8 a.m. or later for middle schools and 8.30 a.m. or later for high schools — by July 1, 2022, or the date of expiry of the school’s three-year collective bargaining agreement with its employees, whichever is later.

Most of California’s public schools will need to delay their start times under the new law, according to a legislative analysis prepared this year. About 50% will need to increase their start times by 30 minutes or less; while 25% of schools will need to push it back by 31 to 60 minutes, the analysis said.

So-called “zero periods,” or classes offered before the start of a regular school day, will not be impacted by the legislation. Rural school districts are also exempt from the law.

Newsom, a Democrat, said schools are being given ample time to adjust to the new timings, which he said are aimed at benefiting California’s teens.

“The science shows that teenage students who start their day later increase their academic performance, attendance, and overall health,” Newsom said in a statement. “Importantly, the law allows three years for schools and school districts to plan and implement these changes.

Some medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Medical Association, supported the bill.

Describing insufficient sleep among adolescents as a public health issue, the pediatricians’ group told the LA Times that it “endorses the scientific rationale for later school start times and acknowledges the potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety and academic achievement.” 

Not everyone agreed, however.

A similar bill was vetoed last year by former Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who said decisions about when schools start are “best handled in the local community.”

Opponents of the measure, including the California Teachers Association and some school districts, have echoed similar concerns. 

“Adolescents function better with more sleep, but we don’t believe that starting school later is the only path forward,” Seth Bramble, legislative advocate for the CTA, said in a letter to lawmakers last month, according to the Sacramento Bee. “A mandatory statewide school start time would be an onerous, overreaching mandate on an issue best left to local districts and their parents. The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in California.” 

Some critics have also warned that some families, especially working class families, could be particularly hard-hit by the bill.

“While well-intentioned, proposals to mandate school start times fail to take into account the complexity of the issue and perpetuate the illusion that adolescent sleep deprivation has a simple fix,” two San Jose school superintendents, Chris Funk and Nancy Albarrán, wrote in a op-ed for EdSource earlier this month. 

“Many students are dropped off in the morning by parents headed to work well before the current start time. Mandating that all districts delay the school start time will not change this reality. It would, however, result in students getting out of bed at the same time they do now and being on campus unsupervised for a longer period,” the superintendents said.