Planning Early for Later School Starts

High-school Principal Janet Anderson supports the new law mandating later start times for classes. File photos

South Pasadena High School students will get extra time to sleep thanks to Senate Bill 328, which was signed into law this week by Gov. Gavin Newsom, and which mandates later start times at middle schools and high schools starting in the 2022-23 school year.

The new law directs that all non-rural middle schools not start before 8 a.m., and all non-rural high schools not begin before 8:30 a.m. South Pas Middle School already starts at 8 a.m., so will not be affected.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino authored the bill, after failing to get a similar bill approved twice before.

“Our children face a public-health crisis,” Portantino said. “Shifting to a later start time will improve academic performance and save lives because it helps our children be healthier.”

Local school officials are already planning, ahead of the 2022 change.

“South Pasadena Unified will begin logistical preparations for moving to a later start time,” said School Superintendent Geoff Yantz in a press release. “There are many factors to consider as we develop the best strategies to implement successfully the later school start time. We will work collaboratively with our bargaining units, The Teachers Association of South Pasadena (TASP) and The California School Employees Association (CSEA) on this implementation.”

Supporters of the bill, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, view it as a way to improve academic performance and attendance and to assist in reducing negative health impacts of sleep-deprived students. On the other side, many working parents have expressed concerns about the bill’s effect on their morning commutes, specifically when they may safely drop off students at school, according to the release.

“This gives us a start time, but how we deal with that is pretty flexible and how we set up our schedule,” SPHS Principal Janet Anderson told the Review.

Anderson met with the school site council this week to discuss plans for the time transition. The school currently starts first period at 8 a.m., so the adjustment will add an additional 30 minutes to the start time.

“There are so many people who will be affected by just that small half-hour that can make a lot of change, most of it I believe for good, but change comes hard to people so we’ll need to make sure we have extensive conversations so we can really understand people’s interests,” said Anderson.

Anderson said that, 20 years ago, the school started having late-start mornings four times a month for teacher and faculty meetings. At first, parents were concerned students wouldn’t be able to adjust, but now the school receives very positive feedback, including students looking forward to those days and having time for a proper breakfast.

She also shared that the health research into late start times is “overwhelmingly beneficial for kids.” She feels that counter-arguments, such as athletic practices going later into the evening, will be able to be addressed.

“When they have had sufficient sleep, they’re more capable of, for instance, driving, not being as distracted, not being so tired,” said Anderson. “They’re better at their workouts, and because they will be better at their workouts, the workouts shouldn’t have to last as long.”

Dr. Ruby Kalra So Pas School Board supports the new law mandating later start times for classes. File photos

Board of Education Member Dr. Ruby Kalra expressed strong support for the late start bill and said, “it’s been years coming.”

“The research showing that teen-agers have a hard time falling asleep earlier, so when people say, ‘Just go to bed earlier,’ physiologically they’re still wired and awake and they can’t go to bed earlier,” said Kalra. “They’re usually getting into their deeper stages of REM sleep closer to the time when we’re actually waking them up for current school time so they’re not getting a full night’s rest.”

Anderson noted that although the late start time won’t take effect for another three years, she is looking forward to starting deliberations with various school organizations and groups.

“It probably will take a little while to come up with some schedules that are workable for all, but I think that’s a good reason to start on it soon,” said Anderson.