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Late start times present new challenges for school leaders

Credit: Julie Leopo for EdSource

California high schools can start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. now that SB 328 is in effect. Some districts have found that this has saved them money.

As school bells across the state ring at a different time than normal this year for middle and high school students due to a new law mandating later start times, administrators have had to meet new challenges, including navigating the needs of students and parents.

Senate Bill 328 requires high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and middle schools no earlier than 8:00 a.m.

Although the change will go into effect in most districts when school begins in the coming days, a few have been the first to implement, giving them a year or two to fine-tune bus and bell schedules and get feedback from parents.

At Kerman Unified in Fresno County, the district of 5,230 students is entering its third year under the new schedule. Superintendent Robert Frausto said he addressed the two big issues: transportation and before and after school supervision.

All unified schools in Kerman used to start at 8 a.m., but after social distancing was required on buses during the pandemic, they moved to a tiered system where drivers make two trips: one to pick up and drop off primary students, and a second for the older ones. students. This limited the number of students on the bus at any given time.

Because start times were to be staggered for the new system, Frausto said he “might as well bite the bullet” and comply with the coming law. It was signed in 2019, giving schools three years to make the change.

Frausto said he actually found the new bus system more cost effective. The more tiers, the fewer pilots are needed, he said.

“In our case we saved probably three to four drivers,” he said. “So we’re saving a few hundred thousand dollars.”

The San Francisco Unified School District changed its start times last year, according to spokeswoman Laura Dudnick, and the district has also made savings in the transportation department.

SFUSD saves about $3 million each year in transportation costs, which can instead be spent to support students directly,” she said. “With departure times being 50 minutes apart (7:50 a.m., 8:40 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.), each bus can be used to transport students to three different schools.”

Before the pandemic, K-12 schools in the district all started at different times, ranging from 7:40 a.m. to 9:40 a.m.

“It was unusual for school districts and presented logistical challenges for families and school communities,” Dudnick said.

Parents in Kerman have also expressed concern that young students need supervision, Frausto said. It was a problem that high school students were kicked out later than their younger siblings, and buses dropped off younger students first, leaving them unattended until their siblings got home. one hour later.

“We solved that by putting (students) in after-school programs, and even expanding our after-school programs,” Frausto said.

The district uses grants in addition to its district funding “to make sure we don’t have parents on the waiting list,” he said. “I don’t want it to be a problem.”

For parents who need to drop students off early to get to work, they’ve added hours for teacher aides to help with morning supervision.

Manteca Unified in Stanislaus County will enter its second year under the new schedule. It was a very unpopular law in the community, according to Victoria Brunn, director of business and information for Manteca Unified.

“A schedule change that affects us drastically internally and externally,” she said. “Bell’s schedules are how we operate as a system, and when you change them in a meaningful way, it changes the whole operation for students, families and staff.”

Manteca Unified has an enrollment of over 23,000 students.

“What we’ve heard most from our students is their inability to get part-time work that many of our kids need,” she said. “A lot of our students have part-time jobs…but who can start a part-time job when you get out of school so late?”

Both Brunn and Frausto said they were able to change start times and still stay within state limits. compulsory instruction time.

Manteca Unified High Schools released at 4 p.m. last year. One of the biggest lessons the district learned was, “Anywhere we can squeeze five minutes, speak up, right?” Brunn said. “Wherever we can reduce the school day so that we can get our students to work part-time or community placements or their extracurricular or co-curricular activities, we should try to do that.”

They managed to win half an hour this year, she said.

“We heard from our students last year and our families, and had many conversations with our teachers, (the) union, our leadership team and looking at the mandatory minutes required,” she said. “All of these factors come into play, and it’s not easy. It took us a whole year to find that half hour.

Frausto said his district has been playing with the times for the past two years and has found that bus drivers are able to complete their routes ahead of schedule.

So this year, secondary schools have been adjusted by 10 minutes to start at 8:30 a.m. and elementary schools have moved forward by 10 minutes to 8:00 a.m.

“Ten minutes, believe it or not,” he said, meant a lot to parents and staff trying to get to sports and extracurricular activities.

Regarding the cost of the new law, Brunn said the district will now have to have lighting installed in its softball and baseball diamonds.

“There is less daylight for practices,” she said, adding that electricity is the “second most expensive item in schools.”

When SB 328 went into effect in July, it made California the first state in the United States to mandate later start times for teenagers, amid evidence that their natural sleep-wake cycle is different from that of children and adults, making it difficult for them to get a good night’s sleep if school starts too early. There are now similar bills in New York and New Jersey.

There is an exemption for rural schools, some of which, like Oakdale Unified in Stanislaus County, took.

“There’s no schedule that fits exactly (parents’ needs), and we really need to recognize that our teens are hurting and that sleep deprivation is making things harder for them,” said Lisa L. Lewis. , the author who helped trigger the law by writing a editorial which caught the attention of Senator Anthony Portantino, author of SB 328.

“I feel like it’s incredibly important to emphasize mental health and the fact that sleep deprivation absolutely exacerbates depression, anxiety (and) suicidality,” she said.

Lewis pointed out several studies this found later start times help teens get more sleep. Only 22% of teenagers sleep at least eight hours, according to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended teenagers sleep eight to 10 hours, and in 2014, it advised school doesn’t start until 8:30 a.m.

But Frausto and Brunn have opposing views on whether the law helps their students. Brunn didn’t think data comparing school delays from year to year would be very helpful.

“That’s a really tough question to answer because of the pandemic,” she said. “Unfortunately it happens at the same time as other variables, so I don’t know if you can isolate it.”

But both offered their own take on the law.

“The impact of this bill has provided students with better quality sleep,” Brunn said. “We don’t necessarily see that from our student population, that they go to bed early.”

As for the contribution of parents, “our qualitative data, in particular, indicates that our parents were not satisfied with the change, at all levels”.

Frausto said he was previously principal of the Merced City School District, where start times sometimes “switched” from year to year.

“What I saw as a manager, and I would say my secondary managers (in Kerman) would agree with that, is that we had a lot (fewer) delays with the late start time high school compared to if it was early,” he said. .

“When we had an early start time for secondary, oh my, the line for late students was at the door. And then when we were late for secondary school, there were a lot (less) of delays.

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