New ‘late start’ bill awaits gov. signature

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

New ‘late start’ bill  awaits gov. signatureOne of a multitude of new bills jammed through the California legislature’s closing sessions last week was an initiative to mandate later start times for schools across the state.

Senate Bill 328, if Gov. Jerry Brown adds his signature, will prohibit (with some exceptions) California schools from starting their school day before 8:30 a.m.

Although more than 80 percent of junior- and senior-high schools start prior to that time, legislators have cited a study that suggests that later start-times for the school day will facilitate more well-rested students.

“I have been following this bill for quite some time,” said Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Ernie Bell, who acknowledged the newest findings in the study. “As a district, we are always in favor of finding ways to benefit the learning capabilities of our students.”

That said, the bill poses several challenges — particularly to rural districts.

“The late start time could possibly have a significant impact on our entire community in a number of different ways.”

The most expensive impediment would be transportation costs — which are currently mitigated by having staggered start times to minimize the number of busses needed. Purchasing enough busses for a unified start time would be cost-prohibitive for many small districts.

Bell noted that for schools in the Indian Wells Valley — where the primary employer has a 7 a.m. start time, parents may have difficulty finding supervision for their children between work and school start times.

“Increased resources often translate to increased cost — another drawback that may need to be considered,” he said.

When the issue arose before the state senate in 2017, Sen. Jean Fuller cited these practical issues as among her reasons for opposing the bill. She also countered that quality family time is an important factor for success in education.

“The highest indicator of parent and student success is that parents are able to spend time with their children and that they are available to supervise their children,” said Fuller.

She added that job-preparation is one of the main purposes of school. “Most jobs are not going to start at 8:30 or later,” said Fuller. Reinforcing that delay might not be helpful for building appropriate expectations.

Fuller noted that early-morning programs, such as those for musicians, athletes and gifted students, might be eliminated, or put into competition with other after-school programs.

“I know this is well-meaning, and I appreciate the fact that we are looking at the data and having this discussion,” said Fuller.

“Mandatory one-size-fits-all for the state of California is not a good solution for many reasons. Mostly, at the end of the day, there is a local school board that takes all these factors into consideration … they know what the needs are.”

“I opposed SB 328 because it is fundamentally flawed and directly interferes with the local control of our school districts,” agreed Assemblyman Vince Fong. “I believe our school administrators and officials should have the flexibility to make decisions that are in the best interests of their students, rather than a top-down mandate from Sacramento.”

“One thing on which we will need to gain clarity is whether Sierra Sands is ‘urban’ or ‘rural,’” said David Ostash, SSUSD’s assistant superintendent of human resources. “We are currently researching this and we are finding indicators that are making it unclear exactly what we are.”

Fuller’s staffers agreed that while the amended bill allows some exemptions for “rural” districts, the definition for what qualifies has not yet been established.

“Of course, it is very important to know our status, as the law grants flexibility for rural designated areas.”

If Brown signs the law into effect, districts will have several years to implement the change.

Story First Published: 2018-09-07