Educators Ponder Approach to Law Delaying School Start

Like it or not, San Marino High School is going to have to adjust its school start time and scheduling for extracurricular activities within the next three years.
With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature on SB 328 — for years the pet project of state Sen. Anthony Portantino — public schools statewide are now on the clock to ensure that their middle schools start no earlier than 8 a.m. and their high schools at 8:30 a.m. or later. Portantino, perennially citing an opinion advanced by the American Academy of Pediatrics, has championed the bill as a measure to improve student mental wellness and overall performance.
“Our children face a public health crisis,” Portantino said in a statement after Newsom signed the bill this month. “Shifting to a later start time will improve academic performance and save lives because it helps our children be healthier. The PTAs, researchers, doctors, educational advocates and every parent and child who worked tirelessly and passionately on this three-year effort should take pride in what we have accomplished with the passage of SB 328.”
As Portantino has long pointed out, experts argue that teenagers nationwide are sleep-deprived thanks to large homework loads keeping them awake late at night and an early school schedule. The mounting sleep debt, experts also contend, can have detrimental effects on still-developing brains, resulting in a litany of mental health and wellness issues. Other organizations such as the California Medical Association and the California State Parent Teacher Association backed the pediatrics academy’s study and Portantino’s bill.
Opponents — notably the California School Boards Association and the California Teachers Association — have tended to decry, however, the one-size-fits-all effect of the bill that preempts local control.
“This is a rare occasion where the California Teachers Association and administrators are on the same page,” said Superintendent Jeff Wilson in a recent interview. “That’s not meant to be snarky. The state of California has been promoting this idea of local control [of schools] since around 2013 and yet every time we turn around, the state Legislature passes legislation requiring us to produce even more documentation for more local compliance.”
On top of that, opponents say, the pediatrics academy also has called for continued research into the effects of later start times and urged that local commutes should factor into school decisions. There also have been general questions on how the timing would impact the schedule of sports practices and games.
“I voiced my objections to this legislation on numerous occasions with Sen. Portantino and other legislators,” Wilson said, adding it went back to his time as an administrator in the Arcadia Unified School District. “One of the early protests I voiced was that this would have a tremendous impact on high school extracurricular activities. You can’t make the sun go down later, and a large number of our high school sports are dependent on daylight.”
First period at SMHS kicks off at 8 a.m., so the schedule change will result in at least a half-hour change for the school day. Huntington Middle School already falls within the new guidelines and would not be required to change scheduling. The bill does not apply to zero period classes, which start at 7 a.m. for SMHS students and at 7:05 a.m. at HMS.
“Every educator from the teacher perspective and from the administration perspective has been looking at and anticipating this,” SMHS Principal Issaic Gates said. “It’ll be a lot of work and that work will be done with our community members, parents, teachers and support staff, and we’ll take direction from the district office. It’s a shift.”
Gates added that it’s unclear what that shift would look like, whether it’s a simple 30-minute bump for all class periods or a rethinking of the day’s schedule altogether — or something in between. The question will be, Gates said, how best to implement this change for the San Marino community.
“Our community plays a huge role in that,” he said. “If we’re looking at a simple shift in bell schedule or we start looking at different models, whatever conclusion we come to will be done in a collaborative effort with our community and it will be in alignment with our board and superintendent.”
Leticia Aranda, president of the San Marino Teachers Association, voiced support for the new requirement, saying that it reflects how public education has structurally changed since its inception.
“Schools run on schedules reflecting an era long gone — the beginning of the industrial age,” Aranda said in an emailed response. “When schools were designed, the sciences and humanities were all housed
in separate buildings. A start bell prompted students to move from one building to another. There was little to no thought as to what was best for a developing mind and growing body.”
Aranda added that the SMTA “will always support thoughtful decisions” and that she believed in the mental health and wellness research with which Portantino backed his bill.
“Late starts are so good for the growing mind and body of the student,” she said. “The developing brain needs sleep. The growing body needs rest. Late starts work for teachers, too. Having time to design better access to learning makes for healthier learning environments.”
On the mental wellness
aspect, Gates said he felt this conversation would be
an easier one for the community to begin given that the district and SMHS are in the midst of implementing a wellness initiative for students districtwide.
“I think there’s a connectedness to that,” he said. “I think if you’re looking at it from an internal perspective, we’re proud of the work that we’ve started. We’ve already started the conversation in the community: What’s the best approach for educating students on mental health and wellness?”
Districts have either until the 2022-23 school year or the end of a three-year labor contract with teachers — whichever is later — to implement the changes.

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