Starting in 2023, middle- and high school students in California will start their school days later thanks to a law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month.
The reason for the change has to do with mounting research that finds that more and better sleep improves teenagers’ academic performance, and physical and mental health.
Under the new law, start times across the state will begin at 8 a.m. or later for middle school and 8:30 a.m. or later for high schools.
School districts will be required to reorganize to comply with the law. So-called zero periods that start earlier will still be offered on an optional basis.
According to 2014 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, teens who regularly do not get enough sleep may suffer physical and mental health problems, increased risk of accidents and a decline in academic performance.
Nicole Mahrer, assistant professor of psychology and child psychologist, said teenagers have a unique sleeping pattern that makes it harder for them to fall asleep early.
“The brain chemistry in teenagers makes it hard for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m,” Mahrer said.
On average, teenagers need eight to 10 hours of sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Most do not get enough sleep on school nights.
Darren Knowles, deputy superintendent for human resources at the Pomona Unified School District, said he is looking forward to seeing if the law will lead to better academic achievement for the students.
“Research is clear that students’ sleep patterns are different from our class times, which begin at 7:45 a.m.,” Knowles said.
“Kids sometimes drive to school sleepy or arrive to class very tired with no motivation to learn. I really hope this (change) helps students obtain more sleep and improves their academics.”
Knowles said Pomona Unified School District is planning to put together a committee to address the implications of the schedule change.
“The busing schedule and after school activities will definitely be changing as well as the traffic pattern in the city,” Knowles said.
The new law is based on over three decades of research on teen health, sleep patterns and brain chemistry.
Still it has some detractors. In fact, the bill was initially approved by the full legislature in 2017, but was then vetoed by then Gov. Jerry Brown.
The California Teachers Association recently spoke out against the later start time, as they said it puts strain on families who cannot afford additional childcare.
Claremont High School freshman Audrey Sinsky said that although she appreciates how a later start time could mean more sleep in the long run, she is concerned about how the law could affect low-income students.
“There are students who purposely take an earlier period in order to leave school early so that they can financially help their families,” Sinsky said. “Without that flexibility, these students will have a difficult time finding ways to go to work in order to help with money issues.”
Sinsky said her first class begins at 6:50 a.m., while students who choose to not take an extra early class begin at 7:55 a.m.
“I’m taking an extra course in the morning in order to take a total of four years of social sciences,” Sinsky said.
“I want to be academically advanced, but some students in my early morning class take it because they need to get out earlier so they can go to work or help their families.”
Sinsky added that the law will not necessarily translate to more or better sleep.
“Students can stay up on their phones or watch television instead of sleeping, and they will be in the same sleep deprivation situation they are now,” Sinsky said.
Alondra Campos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.