Students in California Rejoice! New Legislation Starts School Later

As California passes a new law that will push back middle and high school start times, scenes of students groggily wandering the halls, falling asleep in class, and lacking energy in the mornings will soon be a thing of the past. The new legislation is part of a new movement advocating for later start times for schools. 


Major cities like Seattle and large suburban districts like the Fairfax County schools in Virginia have joined hundreds of other districts in the country in starting school later. However, California having this kind of legislation as a statewide mandate has the nation watching to see the results and perhaps beginning the same conversation in their own communities.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School was one of the first schools to agree with the later start times. Credit: Flickr.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation that California state middle schools will start classes at 8 a.m. or later, while state high schools will start classes at 8:30 a.m. or later. These new start times take effect in the 2022-2023 school year and apply to all public and charter schools. 


Victoria Guan, a sophomore, said, “I honestly wouldn’t mind school ending later if we could push the school starting later because we are sleep-deprived teenagers who are supposed to be growing kids.” 


Portions of the student body believe that school should start later, and Principal Holtzman agrees wholeheartedly. He discussed the idea in his previous district. While he has advocated for this arrangement, he nevertheless understands the cost of introducing such a major change.


“The research does in fact support, starting school later results in greater attendance, fewer disciplinary problems, less mental health issues, greater GPAs, better moods,” Dr. Holtzman said. “However, communities organized and scheduled their lives around drop-off and pick-up times, childcare, and work schedules, so now a community would have to rearrange their entire world to accommodate the change in start times… this is not an easy task.” 


Despite some shortcomings, the later start times are backed by research and guidance by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Medical Association. These organizations have all recommended later start times to ensure that the students are alert and ready to learn. 


In general, biologically, teenagers become tired later in the night and wake up later in the morning. Later sleeping times and earlier school start times force students to not experience a healthy amount of sleep.


How much are students really getting out of the later start times? Studies say more than we think. Credit: EducationNext.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends that children ages 6 to 12 sleep 9 to 12 hours a night, while teenagers should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep. One out of four students nationwide gets the recommended amount of sleep per night, according to a 2017 CDC study.


According to the AASM, this lack of sleep can lead to car accidents, obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Sleepless adolescents also are at a higher risk for self-harm, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. 


But the late starting time can also lead to its own range of problems. 


Sophie Frenkel, a freshman, said that if school starts later, “then the school day is over later, leaving less time for sports and homework.” 


Along those lines, later school start times can force parents to find early-morning care for long commutes to work. Schools and coaches may also face difficulties with scheduling sports practices due to a lack of daylight and adjusting funds for transportation. Some schools that have experimented with later start times have reversed their efforts due to complaints from the community. 


As time goes on, the results of this new legislation could change the entire country’s school day. For now, the nation will just have to see what the future holds for this policy.