Disappointment, appreciation expressed after bill for later start times for schools is signed into law

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), shown here during a Burbank Unified school board meeting, saw his Senate Bill 328, which pushed back start times or middle and high schools, signed into law on Sunday.
(File Photo)

Reactions from Burbank and Glendale Unified personnel and parents were mixed after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 328 into law on Sunday, making California the first state in the country to push back public school start times.

By July 2022, Burbank and Glendale schools will have to adopt new start times for middle and high schools after 8 and 8:30 a.m., respectively.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) authored the bill around the same time La Cañada Unified introduced later start times for the 2017-18 school year. It’s believed LCUSD first toyed with the delayed start times around 2014.

Last year, La Cañada’s Late Start Oversight Committee reported students were sleeping a little more, but there were issues regarding athletics scheduling and later school days.

“Generations of children will come to appreciate this historic day and our governor for taking bold action,” Portantino said in a statement.

“Our children face a public-health crisis. Shifting to a later start time will improve academic performance and save lives because it helps our children be healthier,” Portantino added.

Portantino twice before tried to get a similar bill approved, with his previous effort dying at Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk last year.

One exception is that Portantino’s measure does not address zero periods, or classes taken before the start of a normal school day. Those classes meet just before or around 7 a.m.

Burbank Unified, for instance, offers 53 zero-period classes combined at its secondary schools.

For all the talk about the new law’s impact, there won’t actually be any effect for area middle schools because the seven middle schools in the Burbank and Glendale Unified school districts already start their first periods at 8 a.m. or later.

The most significant change will be at area high schools because Burbank, Burroughs, Clark Magnet, Crescenta Valley, Glendale and Hoover high schools will have to adjust their schedules by between 29 and 35 minutes, which translates into later release times.

The start-time shift brought about differing opinions from local educators, administrators and parent advocates.

Former Burbank High School principal Michael Bertram, who in May stepped away from his position after six years, said he was disappointed.

Bertram said Portantino “never once asked” his opinion regarding a later start time.

“How many high school staff members did he actually consult before making his decision?” Bertram asked. “I bet we can count them on one hand.”

Portantino does thank or acknowledge the California Parent-Teachers Assn., pediatricians, researchers, doctors, educational advocates, parents, children and the health-care community in a pair of statements released on Sunday and Monday.

However, to Bertram’s point, the state senator does not mention support from high school administrators or teachers.

One group that opposed SB 328 was the California Teachers Assn., which argued lower-income families would disproportionally bear the burden of increased after-school costs.

Locally, Taline Arsenian, president of the Glendale Teachers Assn., said she didn’t see a push from the district or parents for later start times.

“We’ve been at all the school board meetings, and I can’t remember ever seeing a parent advocate for a later start time,” Arenian said.

Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill said he would not express an opinion about the later-start law until school board members announce an official position.

In terms of early classes, Hill said, “We are going to review the details of the new legislation to see how we can continue to offer zero periods.”

While there was some disappointment and doubt, there was also optimism and appreciation from some in the education community.

Neda Farid-Farhoumand, executive vice president of the Glendale Council PTA, praised Portantino’s effort and said some in Glendale had been observing the late-start process intently.

Glendale parents “have been carefully following the research and watching the success of late start in communities, such as La Cañada, next door,” she said in a statement.

She added, “While the logistics of the roll-out remain unclear, parents are largely optimistic and look forward to celebrating students who are more alert, pay greater attention and are better able to cope with stress and retain information.”

Glendale Unified parent Sarah Yoder, whose three children attend Clark Magnet High, Toll Middle School and Muir Elementary, said she was pleased with the new legislation.

Yoder’s 16-year-old high school student “complains about being tired (and looks visibly weary) every day,” Yoder said in an email response to a Twitter request for comment.

On the flip side, transportation for later starts times is something she worries about.

“In summary, we strongly support later start times,” Yoder said. “They help. Stop overworking our kids, too.”

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