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Gov. Newsom signs bill delaying start of school day. How it affects Stanislaus students

Students enjoy free time before classes start at Hanshaw Middle School on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019 in Modesto, Calif.
Students enjoy free time before classes start at Hanshaw Middle School on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019 in Modesto, Calif. jfarrow@modbee.com

Schools in Stanislaus County are faced with making major changes to schedules after a bill to provide more sleep time for adolescent students was signed into law.

The bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday forbids California middle schools from ringing the opening bell before 8 a.m., and prohibits high schools from starting class before 8:30 a.m.

Local school districts have time to prepare for the mandate. Schools must adopt the law before July 1, 2022, or sooner if they have collective bargaining units that allow negotiation before the deadline.

Senate Bill 328, authored by Sen. Anthony Portantino of Southern California, is based on science showing students are healthier and happier when they sleep in a little later.

“This is a public health bill that has a positive academic outcome,” Portantino said. “The overwhelming benefit to the health and welfare of children demands that we make those changes.”

Former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed similar legislation last year, saying that “these are the types of decisions best handled in the local community.”

The new law will push the morning start times for Modesto high schools from about 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. The final period will end around 2:40 p.m. instead of 2:10 p.m.

Becky Fortuna, spokeswoman for Modesto City Schools, said the first middle school classes start at 9 a.m. and won’t directly be affected by SB 328. But changes could be coming to middle schools as adjustments are made to bus transportation, nutrition and other services to comply with the mandate for high schools.

The Modesto school district has about 30,000 students, and half of them are in high school.

“We still have a lot to learn about the nuances of the bill,” Fortuna said. “This will be a big change for Modesto City Schools. We have a lot of work ahead of us talking with parents and looking at what the effects will be for transportation, nutrition and after-school athletics.”

In making adjustments to bus schedules, the Modesto district may need to hire more drivers or purchase more buses, Fortuna said. The new mandate could also change when lunch is served to students and when food is delivered to school sites.

Beth Jimenez, spokeswoman for the Ceres Unified School District, said the district’s middle schools start at 7:45 or 7:50 a.m. And its high schools will need to adjust morning schedules by 40 to 45 minutes. That will impact when the final bell rings in the afternoon.

“We don’t have a lot of details yet,” Jimenez said. “We will be evaluating how we will make accommodations for this new law.”

Superintendent Dana Trevethan said the Turlock Unified School District has just begun to discuss the new law, “knowing we will have to make adjustments in the future.”

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that teenagers get eight to 10 hours of sleep per night, according to 2016 research. A lack of sleep is linked to increased accident risk, injuries, obesity, diabetes, depression and suicidal thoughts and attempts.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ research in 2014 further argues that delayed start times lead to improved grades, higher attendance and increased energy during the school day.

Portantino said arguments against the bill – namely that it will negatively affect working-class families and strip away local control – are “adult-based” criticisms.

“Productivity goes up, because suspensions go down,” he argued. “Disruptive behavior goes down, tardies go down, violent behavior goes down. What it comes down to is a reluctance for adults to change.”

Smaller school districts in Stanislaus County also will need to adapt to the new law.

Hardy Reeves, a teacher at Orestimba High School in Newman, said he understands the bill because some students arrive at school tired from playing video games or “we hope, studying. But we’re realistic.”

The new law will push the end of the school day half an hour later, Reeves said. “We’re looking at students who are involved in extracurricular activities — football, sports, other events — that now are going to be missing out on the afternoon sessions.”

Jasmine Fernandez, an Orestimba sophomore, said: “It’s good because we’ll be able to get more sleep and we’ll have to do homework, so I feel like more students won’t be as late to school as they are now. A lot of kids are late to school due to the fact that school starts early for some people. Starting super early is not good for us because then our brains aren’t fully awake yet.”

Reeves said he wasn’t totally sold on the need for the law.

“I don’t see this as fixing anything,” he said. “There’s a lot more to be said about students being more responsible for themselves. I understand that staying up late is one thing, but when we send them away to college, there are 8 o’clock, even 7 o’clock classes.”

Orestimba senior Yaritza Moreno said the extra 30 minutes in the morning will make a huge difference.

“Sometimes, I do stay up late to work on homework,” Moreno said. “So having more time in the morning to get ready, to get all my things, as well as maybe having more time on my homework would be very helpful.”

Another senior, Cameron Shull, suggest that kids will just stay up later and get up later, logging the same amount of sleep.

“It’s more up to the kids to put the responsibility of going to sleep on themselves rather than having the actual schedule change,” Shull said. “The students can balance their lives rather than the government changing it. It’s our responsibility.”

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

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