New California law pushing back school times draws criticism

A new law will require middle schools to begin classes no earlier than 8 a.m. and high school classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m. 

Supporters of Senate Bill 328, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed earlier this month, say it will benefit students’ health, but not everyone is buying into the hype. The law will go into effect the 2022-23 academic year. 

Eliza Karpel, a fourth-year fashion merchandising major at Long Beach State, said she remembers having to wake up at 5 a.m. for her “zero period” marching band class in high school. The class was required to be on the field, ready to go by 6:45 a.m.

Karpel said she wishes the new law would apply to these types of courses as well, since electives are often needed for college applications.

“It only makes sense that schools should encourage these activities and allow reasonable time for them without making students come to school as early as 6 a.m.,” Karpel said. “It won’t be doing [students] any favors if they have to deal with sleep-deprivation in order to participate.”

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends eight to 10 hours of sleep for adolescents aged 13 to 18, but several factors such as puberty, poor sleep habits and academic demands have contributed to sleep-deprivation. Several public health organizations agree that lack of sleep among teenagers is an important public health issue. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control Prevention all recommend that middle and high schools begin at 8:30 a.m. or later, in order to better align with the circadian rhythms of adolescents, which keep them up later at night.

Critics of SB 328 say that the law doesn’t take into account the needs of individual school districts in California. 

Troy Flint, senior director of communications for the California School Boards Association, said his organization doesn’t oppose later start times, but they do object the one-size-fits-all approach of a statewide mandate.

“While late school start times may make sense for some districts, other districts…may not be in a position to successfully implement these laws, and the unintended consequences may outweigh any potential benefits,” Flint said.

The CSBA along with various other education groups across the state sent Newsom a request to veto the bill in September. In the letter, the groups also argued that research on the long-term impacts of later school times is inconclusive.

Another concern about SB 328 is whether it will actually increase the amount of sleep for students, or whether students will end up falling asleep later as a result.

Karla Gutierrez, a third-year journalism major at CSULB, used to wake up early for a 6:40 a.m. choir class in high school. Guitierrez said she didn’t mind being at school early because her classes would be done earlier, even though she only got about 6.5 hours of sleep each night.

Her classes now begin at 9:30 a.m., but she falls asleep at around 2 a.m.

“Changing the time or not changing the time, I feel like it won’t make a difference,” she said. 

Gutierrez also said the decision to change start times should be left up to local communities.

“Not a lot of government officials know if students are going to sleep at 9 p.m. and wake up at 8 a.m.,” Gutierrez said. “Maybe some of the students sleep at 2 a.m. and take advantage of the later start times.”

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