Later Start Times: Push to ring the school bell a little later - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Later Start Times: Push to ring the school bell a little later

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SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) - San Diego Unified School District Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to assist middle schools and high schools that want to start classes later.

The school district invited parents to express their opinions on later school start times at its board meeting.

Senate Bill 328, which fell short of votes in the State Assembly, would have required all state middle school and high schools, even those operating as charter schools, to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. Despite the bill's failure, the local district is leaving the option open to individual school communities.

Child psychologist and district board member Dr. John Lee Evans spoke with News 8 about the pros and cons of a later start and how the district is encouraging communication between all sides.

"We're not going to make a top-down decision at the district level," Evans said. "We're really going to allow each school community to have a conversation themselves, and if they can come to a consensus between the parents, the teachers, the students, all the stakeholders, then they can petition the district for a later start time." 

Evans, like the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), supports a later start time. He said that the circadian rhythm, or biological clock, of teens doesn't align with early start times and said that after puberty, it's hard for teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m.

A common misnomer, Evans said, is that a later start time will only result in students getting to bed at a later hour. But Evans points to research that proves students who start their school day an hour later actually get an hour more of sleep.

"Early school start times are doing great harm to students in the school district," Beth McNeil, a parent, said. "Those kids who work jobs until late at night, those kids who have to get on the bus at 6 a.m., they are harmed the most by early school times."

Another side of the argument Evans hears is complaints from parents who say the change doesn't align with their work schedule and would throw their routine for a loop. Evans says that no school schedule, early start or late, aligns with the traditional adult work schedule and if educators were to try and make it happen students would end up with a 10-hour school day. He added that there will always be a group of parents inconvenienced by the time school starts, but what's important with the potential change is that students will get the sleep they need.

The fact is that two out of three students are sleep deprived and we all know what sleep deprivation can do,"  Dr. Lee Evans said.

Budget, sports and other after-school program participation, like tutoring, are other areas that parents are concerned about with a later start. As for sports, Evans said that there is currently one high school in San Diego out of 16 that starts late (8:45 a.m.) and they participate in all of the same extracurricular activities and sports as the others.

But budget is a concern for both sides.

"There certainly is a financial factor," Evans said. "We cannot spend more money on busing and a lot of the schedule has to do with the busing routes and so forth, so it has to be revenue neutral in terms of if we change something around."

Evans said that there is a disproportionate amount of elementary schools starting late to high schools starting early and if some of those can be flipped, the district might not have to spend any more.

Board member Michael McQuary said the science and documentation is already available in support of later school start times.

"I don't think it's about finding new information, but rather on how do we do it," McQuary said.

Not one person spoke against starting school later Tuesday night.

"I don't have an MD or a PhD, but I do have a MOM - that's master of mammahood," said one mother who supports starting at 8:30 a.m., or later in middle and high schools. 

Find more information on district board meetings here.

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