In his Tuesday evening address to the South Pasadena School Board, State Senator Anthony Portantino advocated for statewide late start measure SB 328, a bill the senator himself introduced in February of this year. SB 328 proposes to move the K-12 public-school start time from 8 to 8:30 a.m. in light of scientific studies suggesting a later start would benefit children’s mental health by allowing their bodies to have a more natural circadian rhythm.
Portantino emphasized that these studies indicate increased sleep for teens leads to a lower rate of suicidal thoughts and generally higher performance in academics and athletics.
“The number one killer of teens, car accidents, goes down. The number two killer of teens is suicide and the percentage of suicidal thoughts goes down,” said Portantino. “But the statistic that blew me away was that sports participation goes up…and the number of sports injuries go down.”
The senator was keen to describe the late start measure as a public health need. “If you wanted to put asbestos in a school’s tiles you couldn’t because it is a matter of public health,” said Portantino. “We know that sleep-depriving teenagers when they require ten hours of sleep a night to maintain a healthy brain chemistry is a public health issue as well. We know the teenage biological clock prevents them from falling asleep before 11 o’clock.
“Parents that put their kids to bed at 9 p.m…that’s contrary to science,” continued the senator. “There’s a reason why your teenagers fidget when you put them to bed early. It’s basically the melatonin level in their brains.”
Portantino pointed to the success of a trial measure in La Canada Unified School District, saying that the results of parent, student, teacher and administrator surveys appear so far to be “overwhelmingly positive.”
“I thought La Cañada implemented a very logical late start progression,” he said. “They began with one day a week late start, realized students were doing better on those days, and then this year negotiated a one year Memorandum of Understanding with their bargaining units to do a five-day late start.”
Before concluding his address, Portantino politely challenged the School Board. “My trouble-making statement tonight,” he said, “is, you don’t need the state legislation to change, you can phase [a late start measure] in on your own.”
Newly appointed Board President Jon Primuth was the lone dissenting vote two months ago when a decision to support a late start policy in South Pas came before the School Board. At the time, he said he found the science behind the study compelling but worried about how the measure would affect zero period at the high school.
The main source of opposition to SB 328, Portantino told the Board Tuesday night, has come from lobbyists for the California School Board Association (CSBA), a group he called “a thorn in the side” of the measure.
“I had to go on National Public Radio because someone from the CSBA was saying the bill would shorten the school day and do away with zero period,” said Portantino. “The bill doesn’t do either of those things. The bill is silent on zero period and does not shorten the school day.”
Despite Portantino’s efforts, the CSBA continued to attempt to stain the studies behind the bill, in the senator’s words “misrepresenting” what they alleged to be a Harvard University study on the assembly floor. At that hearing, lead researchers in attendance, one from a separate Stanford University study and another from the American Academy of Pediatrics, spoke in opposition to the CSBA position. “They were aghast that the CSBA would basically misrepresent the science and lie to the assembly members,” Portantino said.