Plan for later California school starts gets mixed grades

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LOS ANGELES (AP) - California school kids could be getting more time to sleep.

That's the idea behind a proposal that's cruising through the state Legislature that, if approved, would prohibit middle schools and high schools from starting earlier than 8:30 a.m.

A final vote could come next month.

To supporters, a delayed start time would allow students to get more rest, which would lead to better performance in the classroom. But others predict the plan would disrupt families and cause more problems that it would solve.

Knikki Royster, a mother of two, that she starts work at 7:30 a.m., and the later schedule would mean her kids would be walking a mile to high school.

"I prefer to drop them off," Royster told The Sacramento Bee ( Sunday.

"I want that supervision in the morning," she added. "When you don't allow parents to do their job, we start making systems that don't work for parents and hurt the family."

Meanwhile, the debate is playing out in school board meeting rooms around the state. Schools in Davis and Sacramento have already moved to the later start time.

The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Anthony Portantino, told the newspaper that studies show kids are not getting enough sleep, hurting their grades.

"I realized this was a significant public health issue," said Portantino, a Democrat from La Canada Flintridge, who has daughters in high school and college.

The University of Minnesota's Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement in 2014 sampled around 9,000 students across five school districts outside California. It found that students who sleep eight or more hours are less likely to have depression, fall asleep in class, drink caffeine or engage in dangerous behavior.

"The more I'm looking at the findings I do at my research center, the more it is compelling evidence that teenagers are at great risk when they get less than eight hours of sleep per night," said Kyla L. Wahlstrom, the lead investigator of the study. In Wahlstrom's study, students who started before 8:35 a.m. averaged around 7.8 hours of sleep, just shy of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eight-hour standard.

The bill cleared the Assembly Education Committee in early July. But the idea hasn't caught on with the panel's chairman, Assemblyman Patrick O'Donnell, D-Long Beach. He said kids with working parents with rigid schedules will have get up early anyway.

"I don't see how this has kids waking up any later, because aren't they going to have to go into daycare before the school day starts? How does that increase the sleep time?" O'Donnell asked.

Nancy Espinoza of the California School Boards Association, which opposes the bill, said the state's size and diversity would pose challenges.

"It just defies logic to prescribe a single start time for communities where parents largely don't have the flexibility to adjust their work schedules (and) where there aren't safe places for kids to go in the morning after their parents leave," Espinoza said.