Is Any Time Too Early for School? State Lawmakers Are Asking

03/17/2017 01:24 pm ET Updated Mar 21, 2017
The Start School Later Maryland team witness the signing of the Orange Ribbon Bill, landmark <a rel="nofollow" href="https://
The Start School Later Maryland team witness the signing of the Orange Ribbon Bill, landmark school start time legislation passed in 2016 to recognize districts that set safe, healthy hours.

The Start School Later Movement came to life in fall 2011 after I launched a petition asking politicians to support legislation that would give students of all ages a chance for healthy sleep. Now legislators in California, Maine, Nevada, and Rhode Island are doing just that, with bills that would require states to set a limit on how early schools can start classes.

My petition called on national leaders to promote legislation merely because it was originally hosted on We the People, a free, online portal that required petitions to go to the President and Congress. (The petition still exists on a new portal.) It was inspired by various versions of the the Z’s to A’s Act, introduced into U.S. Congress since 1998 to propose various ways the federal government could help high schools start classes after 8:30 or 9 a.m.

The latest version of Lofgren’s ZZZ’s to A’s Act simply calls for the U.S. Secretary of Education to study the issue. Given the contentiousness about federal control of school policy, however, statewide legislation may be the key to ensuring safe, healthy, equitable school hours.

Calls for States to Set Limits

Today’s bills call for states, not the federal government, to establish boundaries for safe, healthy school hours.

  • California’s SB328, the Start the School Day Later bill, introduced by Sen. Anthony Portantino (D), “would require the school day for middle schools and high schools to begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m.” A hearing by the Senate Education Committee is expected in mid-April 2017. 
  • Maine’s LD468 (HP331), An Act to Provide for a Later Starting Time for High Schools, sponsored by Rep. Matthea Daughtry (D), seeks to ensure that high schools do not start the school day before 8:30 a.m., and that extracurricular activities do not begin after 7:30 p.m. on evenings immediately prior to school days. 
  • Nevada’s AB166, a bill Revising Provisions Governing Education, introduced by Assemblyman Chris Edwards (R), would require each school district to set the time for the start of the school day as follows: “(1) not earlier than 7:30 a.m. or later than 8:00 a.m. for elementary schools; (2) not earlier than 8:15 a.m. or later than 8:45 a.m. for junior high or middle schools; and (3) not earlier than 9 a.m. or later than 9:30 a.m. for high schools.” 
  • Rhode Island’s HB 5888, an Act Relating to Education: School Committees and Superintendents, introduced by representatives Julie A. Casimiro (D), Susan R. Donovan (D), Robert E. Craven, Sr., Joseph M. McNamara (D), and K. Joseph Shekarchi (D) — establishes that, starting with the 2017-2018 school year, “all school districts shall commence the start of the school day for all their high schools at 8:30 a.m. The general assembly shall appropriate the sum of two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000) to each school district for the implementation of the mandated start time as part of the state budget for fiscal year 2018.”  

Protecting Student Health and Safety

While many communities have restored healthier hours already or never set extremely early ones, most of the nation’s approximately 13,500 school districts still require teens to wake for school at hours that health leaders, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control, have called unhealthy and counterproductive.

Proponents of these bills believe that state action is needed to protect children’s health and safety.

“[W]e need to implement safe, healthy and developmentally appropriate school hours for all of our students — and not just those in districts that are willing to make the change of their own accord,” Senator Portantino wrote a recent editorial. “Establishing a time before which schools should not begin mandated instruction is as fundamental as requiring schools to turn on the heat when the temperature falls below a certain level.”

An editorial publisehd by the NK Standard-Times by Representative Casimiro made similar points: “We owe it to our children to provide the best educational environment, and that includes a start time that sends them to school in the best possible condition and not overtired and dealing with a significant obstacle before they even walk in to the school’s doors. It’s time we listen to the science and data available that clearly states our children are being hampered at best, and threatened, at worst, by these extremely early school hours.”

Portantino stressed that statewide legislation would not prevent Individual districts from setting their own school schedules. By establishing an earliest acceptable opening hour for required classes, these bills would simply position local school districts to implement change in a way that works for their individual communities by ensuring that schedules chosen include a “start time that’s proven to be essential to students’ well-being.”

For more information on school start time legislation across the country, see Start School Later’s Current Legislation page.

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