State Senator Speaks to Parent Group About School Start Time

Having successfully lobbied for it in both his legislative body and his hometown, state Sen. Anthony Portantino hopes to tackle the topic of later start times for middle and high schools in San Marino.
Speaking before the San Marino Schools Participation Forum last Friday, Portantino first related to the parents in the room that among his many other roles and titles, he is “more than anything else, just a public school dad.”
“I’m sure you all share the challenges of getting our teens out of bed and getting them to focus,” said Portantino, whose youngest daughter attends La Cañada High School.
SMSPF organizers invited Portantino to speak after reading about his efforts for this issue with the hope of starting the conversation in San Marino.
Portantino’s bill, setting public middle and high school start times at “no earlier than 8:30 a.m.” has passed the state senate but still awaits state assembly passage. He has made the issue his senatorial raison d’être, citing a litany of peer-reviewed scientific conclusions that teenagers generally are biologically incapable of properly falling asleep before 11 p.m. and require as much as 10 hours of sleep for healthy brain activity.
The reason for this, Portantino explained, has to do with the significant developments that brains undergo during teenage years.
“If you put your teen to bed at 9 o’clock, he’ll fidget around until 11,” he explained. “It’s not his fault. It’s his biology. How would you function if you had to get out of bed 180 days a year at, say, 4 o’clock in the morning?”
Huntington Middle School and San Marino High School both begin at 8 a.m. each morning. La Cañada Unified School District last year tested out the 8:30 a.m. start time on Tuesdays and, after unanimously positive reviews from teachers and students, adjusted the start time accordingly for the current entire year.
The California School Board Association has generally opposed Portantino’s bill, presumably for want of keeping such decisions local instead. However, the California State PTA has thrown its support behind the bill, and the RAND Corporation think-tank projects a boost to the state’s economy as a long-term benefit of the bill.
To ask Portantino, the benefits to this are astronomical. Test scores, attendance and graduation rates go up, as does participation in sports and other extracurricular activities, he said. Drug use, promiscuity, depression, vehicle collisions and suicides drop, Portantino added, citing observations from the 400-plus school districts nationwide that have adopted the time change.
“All the things we want to have a positive effect are positively affected by giving our teens more sleep,” Portantino said. “This is a public health issue, not an academic issue. That’s why the state should get involved. The only negative response La Cañada is getting is in afterschool scheduling, not on its effect on the kids. That’s a legitimate issue, so the state should get involved.
“No matter when you set the start time, someone is going to be inconvenienced,” he added. “This is an opportunity to put kids first. All the arguments are adult-based logistical arguments, not about the kids.”
Julie Lin with SMSPF said Portantino made a convincing case last week.
“After hearing his presentation, it’s pretty much an open and shut case for me,” she said in an email. “It’s a win for students — well rested kids are healthier, happier and learn better. It’s a win for the school district because truancies and absences go down, bringing in more state revenue for the schools, while boosting test scores and overall academic performance of the district. And there’s still more: Discipline issues and sports injuries even go down.”
In an email, San Marino Unified School District Superintendent expressed the want for more analysis on the issue before solidifying his opinion on it.
“While I acknowledge that there is data to support a later start time as a cognitive benefit to adolescents, I think this topic requires more analysis,” Superintendent Alex Cherniss said. “Later start times could create unintended consequences. That appears to be a reason as to why the state legislature has yet to support this. I am also hesitant to support state mandates as I believe in local control to the largest extent possible.”

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