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California law pushing back school start times may mean more sleep for some local students

NEWPORT BEACH, CA, September 3, 2013 -- Crosswalk attendant Roberta Ray stops traffic along Eastbluf
Crosswalk attendant Roberta Ray stops traffic along Eastbluff Drive as students make their way to Corona del Mar High School in 2013.
(File Photo)

California will become the first state in the nation to mandate later start times at most middle and high schools under legislation Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Sunday.

For students at some local high schools, it may mean more time to snooze before they have to roll out of bed.

The new scheduling statute — designed to improve educational outcomes by giving students more sleep — will delay the morning bell at a number of schools in coastal Orange County. Some local districts said they already began later start times recently and are evaluating the effects.

The approved legislation, SB 328, will take effect over a phased-in period, ultimately requiring public middle schools to begin classes at 8 a.m. or later while high schools will start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The law does not apply to optional early classes known as “zero periods.”

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The new start times will be implemented by the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, or when a school district’s three-year collective bargaining agreement with its employees ends, whichever is later. Districts that recently negotiated agreements or are in the midst of negotiating have the option of adjusting to the later times when their contracts end.

Four high schools in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District — Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Estancia and Newport Harbor — start first period around 8 a.m., according to their online bell schedules.

Early College High, a prep school in Costa Mesa, starts at 9:05 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays and 9:45 a.m. Fridays. Back Bay/Monte Vista High, a continuation school in Costa Mesa, starts at 8:30 a.m.

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Newport-Mesa also includes four middle schools. Costa Mesa Middle starts first period at 8 a.m. or later, Corona del Mar Middle at 7:55 a.m. most days, TeWinkle Middle at 8:40 a.m. or later and Ensign Intermediate at 8:05 a.m., according to their online bell schedules.

“Our district is working with our various departments to determine how to implement this change by the deadline,” said spokeswoman Adriana Angulo. “We are in the early planning stages and will communicate with our school community regarding next steps.”

In the Huntington Beach Union High School District, first period begins at 8:24 a.m. for Huntington Beach High School and 8 a.m. at Marina and Fountain Valley High schools.

Huntington Beach Union did not respond to a request for comment.

Other local districts said their start times are already in line with the new law.

Classes at Thurston Middle School in the Laguna Beach Unified School District have historically started at 8:40 a.m., except for zero period.

At Laguna Beach High, regular classes begin at 9 a.m. Mondays and 8:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. District Deputy Supt. Leisa Winston said the schedule was crafted in response to concerns about issues such as student stress, when student-athletes leave class and allowing greater flexibility in course selection.

That bell schedule went into effect this school year and district staff will meet this week to evaluate it, Winston added.

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Isaac L. Sowers Middle School in the Huntington Beach City School District also moved its start time back this year — from 8:30 to 8:57 a.m., according to Principal John Ashby.

“It’s in the best interest of students to shift to a later start time,” he said.

One effect of the switch is that more Sowers students are taking zero-period classes, which start at 8:05 a.m. One-third of students are taking advantage of the early offerings, which now include five physical education classes, two math classes and one history class, Ashby said. Previously, one class was offered during the supplementary period.

“Parents are saying it’s better for our kids,” Ashby said.

Huntington Beach City’s Ethel Dwyer Middle School also already complies with the new state regulations, according to its online bell schedule.

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Racine Cross teaches a class of seventh-graders at Costa Mesa Middle School in 2014.
(File Photo)

Of the four middle schools in the Ocean View School District, only Marine View Middle School doesn’t currently meet the new scheduling requirements. The regular first period for that campus begins at 7:56 a.m., according to its bell schedule.

Ocean View Supt. Carol Hansen said keeping the community informed will be a major part of any upcoming changes.

“The biggest part of it has to do with educating parents, sharing information with staff and making adjustments to transportation schedules,” she said.

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The three middle schools in the Fountain Valley School District will be unaffected by the legislation, according to Supt. Mark Johnson.

The question of whether to push back school start times has lingered for years across the nation, hotly debated by academics and health professionals. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which backed the proposal along with groups such as the California Medical Assn. and the California State Parent Teacher Assn., pointed to studies that found links between more sleep from later start times and better school performance and better health among adolescents.

However, teachers unions and school districts generally argued that decisions about the appropriate time to begin classes should be determined at the local level, allowing districts and schools to set schedules that best meet the needs of their communities.

Opponents also pointed out that the change could affect bus routes and result in higher district costs. They added that it could prevent parents from dropping off their children at school before work and push extracurricular activities further into the evening.

Taryn Luna writes for the Los Angeles Times. Daily Pilot staff writers Lilly Nguyen, Faith E. Pinho, Julia Sclafani and Luke Money contributed to this report.

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