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Sen. Portantino proposes 8:30 a.m. start time for California schools

La Cañada school officials reacted positively to a new measure introduced to the California Senate proposing public middle and high schools push start times back to 8:30 a.m., based on research indicating adolescent brains require more sleep.

On Monday, recently elected state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced SB-328, claiming later school start times would not only better meet the health needs of teenage students, but also benefit statewide school attendance.

"Every year we discuss as parents, educators and legislators [what are the] best practices and interests of the children and education? Well, data is clear starting the school day later improves the quality of education, health and welfare of our children — so let's do it," Portantino said in a Feb. 13 statement.

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La Cañada Unified School District assembled a committee of stakeholders to examine the issue after parent Belinda Dong presented in a September 2014 school board meeting information from a policy statement issued by the American Assn. of Pediatrics in favor of later high school start times.

She argued starting classes at La Cañada High School just 30 minutes later than the current 7:45 a.m. start time could positively impact teenagers' moods, memory retention and, consequently, their academic performance.

Since then, committee members have attempted to gauge parents' appetites for a shift and how it might impact family schedules and the district's athletic involvement in the Rio Hondo League, in which other high schools participate.

In a statement Tuesday, LCUSD Supt. Wendy Sinnette called the AAP research compelling and said officials were in support of a later time at La Cañada High School.

"Until now, the challenge to making every day a later start has been family needs, the need to negotiate this issue at the bargaining table, the coordination of extracurricular events with other schools and being the exception to the schedule that most of them follow," Sinnette added. "If we were to all transition to a later start time, it would alleviate that challenge."

Portantino said studies have confirmed insufficient sleep among adolescents poses a public health risk and has an adverse effect on academic success. Alternatively, research shows districts that have already adopted later start times report increased grade point averages, state assessment scores, college admission test scores, student attention and student and family interaction.

Increased attendance is another reported benefit of starting school later, one that could bring more state funding to schools. In Portantino's 25th Senate District alone, improving current attendance rates by just 1% would generate an additional $40 million annually, the release stated.

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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