California Passes Law Requiring Later School Start Times After Researchers Declare Kids’ Lack of Sleep a ‘Public Health Issue’

After recent research revealed that more sleep can help students perform better academically, a California law has been passed that makes it illegal for high schools to start before 8:30 a.m. and middle schools to start before 8:00 a.m. As the Los Angeles Times reports, this makes California the first state to make a law enforcing later start times for high schools and middle schools.

According to The New York Times, Dr. Sumit Bhargava, a clinical associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and a specialist in pediatric sleep medicine at Stanford Children’s Health, described the law as a “triumph.” Bhargava said that because brains are still developing during adolescence, “chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of diseases later in life.”

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more sleep students academically
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Governor Gavin Newsom, who signed the law on October 13, called it the “magic bullet” everybody has been looking for. He told The New York Times, “Everybody is looking for a magic bullet with education, one that cuts across all demographics, all ethnicities and that actually has a positive, measurable increase in test scores, attendance and graduation rates without costing money. And this is it.”

Senator Anthony J. Portantino also revealed that in addition to increasing test scores, attendance, and graduation rates, the change in start time will also allow students to get into their classrooms before the late bell, thus reducing tardiness.

According to a 16-year-old senior from Los Altos, California, Libby Vastano says she believes the new law will also help with stress and happiness. She told The New York Times that very rarely does she meet a fellow classmate who gets enough sleep during the school year. Vastano said that she would often hope her hardest classes weren’t in the morning because she would still feel “groggy” with classes starting so early.

Vastano isn’t the only one. According to a 2006 poll, 45 percent of adolescents in the United States told the National Sleep Foundation that “they slept for an insufficient length of time on school nights.” Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine agreed that schools shouldn’t begin before 8:30 a.m. and called the lack of sleep a “public health issue.”

more sleep students academically
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Dr. Bhargava continued by saying that even though one hour doesn’t seem like it would make that much of a difference, it will, especially later in life. It will also help teens be less anxious and less depressed. He told The New York Times that “the gift of increased sleep time” will be the “biggest bang for buck.”

However, there are others out there who are critical of the new law and people looking at it as a “one size fits all” solution. Some of the critics say the new start time can negatively affect working parents and their routines.

Claudia Briggs, a CTA spokeswoman, told the L.A. Times, “We know from experience that many of these parents will drop their children off at school at the same time they do now, regardless of whether there is supervision, and there is not enough funding from the state for before school programs to ensure the safety of students who will be dropped off early.”

All California schools are mandated to follow the law by July 1, 2022. Currently, as The New York Times reports, of the schools that currently begin before 8:30 A.M., “the average start for those schools in California was 8:07 a.m.” And in the United States as a whole, only about 10-percent of high schools start after 8:30 A.M.

more sleep students academically
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Newsom told the L.A. Times, “The science shows that teenage students who start their day later increase their academic performance, attendance, and overall health. Importantly, the law allows three years for schools and school districts to plan and implement these changes.”

And the United States isn’t the only country worried about how sleep deprivation is harming their youth. Countries like Korea, Australia, and New Zealand are also worried about the effects. Some schools in Australia and New Zealand have pushed their start time back to 10:00 a.m. and said they saw an obvious increase in alertness among students.

How would you feel about your state signing in a similar law?

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