Will other states start school later?

California passes first statewide law requiring later start times for middle schools and high schools
By: | October 16, 2019
California has directed all middle and high schools in the state to move back start times, while districts across the country consider changes to accommodate the sleep habits of teenagers. (Photo: gettyimages.com: tomazl)California has directed all middle and high schools in the state to move back start times, while districts across the country consider changes to accommodate the sleep habits of teenagers. (Photo: gettyimages.com: tomazl)

The first statewide policy requiring later high school and middle school start times became law this week in California.

Middle schools can start no earlier than 8 a.m.; high schools must wait until 8:30 a.m. to open. The changes must be in place by 2022, according to the new law.

About half the schools in the state will have to push back start times, the Los Angeles Times reported

“Our children face a public health crisis,” state Sen. Anthony J. Portantino, the bill’s sponsor, said in a news release. “Shifting to a later start time will improve academic performance and save lives because it helps our children be healthier.”


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Not all California education leaders are on board. Orange County Superintendent of Schools Al Mijares wrote in CALmatters that the change would cause difficulties for lower-income families.

“While it may be easy enough for some families with flexible schedules to adjust, in some communities, parents who are working just to make ends meet don’t have the luxury of delaying the start of their workday,” Mijares wrote about a week before the law passed. “These children are already arriving early to school if their parents are commuting, are farmworkers, or work in construction, restaurants or retail. Even with later start times, many of these parents will still have to drop their kids off at school before they go to work.”

Lots of districts considering later school start times

Other states and districts are considering pushing back start times for older students. Lawmakers in Connecticut are exploring the concept, according to the Hartford Courant, while the governor of Pennsylvania has urged his state to consider the change, KDKA-AM reported.

Some districts in the Denver and Colorado Springs region have experimented with later start times, while several others are discussing the idea, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. 

Elsewhere, districts in Virginia, Idaho and Wisconsin are at various stages of examining the idea. And a survey of school board members in New York found 60% supported a change, according to the Rome Sentinel. 

‘It’s really tragic’

As children grow, their circadian rhythms shift, and as teenagers they want go to sleep later and wake up later, Nathaniel F. Watson, a University of Washington professor of neurology and co-director of the UW Medicine Sleep Center, told District Administration earlier this year

An school bus makes a stop at 6:35 a.m. one winter morning in Ohio.

An school bus makes a stop at 6:35 a.m. one winter morning in Ohio.

“When you have these early start times, there’s just not enough time for them to get the healthy sleep they need,” said Watson, an author of an American Academy of Sleep Medicine position statement advocating later start times. “It’s really tragic because we know that sleep deprivation is associated with obesity, behavioral issues, increased risk for motor vehicle accidents, and reduced academic performance.”


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Research shows that later start times result in higher graduation and attendance, Watson added.

Other reports have found that communities would benefit economically and also become healthier if schools starter later in the morning.

And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may have put it most bluntly. Its webpage on the subject is simply titled “Schools Start Too Early.”