Later school start times is no solution for teenagers

By Al Mijares, Orange County Superintendent of Schools

Editor’s note: This commentary is in response to: “A trifecta for children?” Dan Walters, Sept. 30, 2019.

As educators, we are always looking to improve the well-being and success of each of our students. In his column, Dan Walters opines that Senate Bill 328 furthers that goal by mandating later start times for middle and high school classes.

It may be true that students with better sleep patterns can be more successful, and, let’s face it, we all want our kids to be well-rested as they start their days. 

Yet a multi-year study in the research journal SLEEP and findings from researchers at the UC Davis Sleep Laboratory challenge the argument that students would get persistent benefits from a shift in their school start time.

Not only would mandating a later start time across the board not have the desired effect, it would impose a hardship on too many working families. In fact, this bill would disproportionately burden students whose socio-economic status is already a significant educational barrier.

While it may be easy enough for some families with flexible schedules to adjust, in some communities, parents who are working just to make ends meet don’t have the luxury of delaying the start of their workday.

The indisputable reality in many of our communities is that students have to begin their day at the same time as their parents. 

These children are already arriving early to school if their parents are commuting, are farmworkers, or work in construction, restaurants or retail. Even with later start times, many of these parents will still have to drop their kids off at school before they go to work.

These students won’t be getting any more sleep, and the additional idle unsupervised time alone could put them in danger. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between keeping their jobs and ensuring the safety of their children.

And this doesn’t take into account the back end of the school day, when many families rely on older siblings to look after younger children. SB 328 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, Democrat from La Cañada Flintridge, would also push after-school activities later into the evenings.

In California, 45% of children live in low-income households and 46% of those families are single-parent families. The idea that SB 328 will not harm any students ignores the real-world constraints under which working-class families and single parents operate.

I am disappointed that Mr. Walters falls into the trap of characterizing arguments against SB 328 as adult “convenience above the welfare of the children they are supposed to be educating.”

Maybe he assumes that every community has the means to adjust their work schedules. Perhaps a few can, but certainly not all. And each community is in a better position than the state to decide what is best for local students and their parents.

____

Al Mijares is Orange County Superintendent of Schools, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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