School start times should be local decision

California will be the first state to mandate later school start times (“California becomes first state in the country to push back school start times,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 14).  The decision is based on research showing that teenage students who begin school later increase academic performance, attendance and overall health.

That is probably true, but in a state as geographically diverse as California, I think the decision should be left to local districts.  Needs of local communities differ. For example, rural school districts have different needs than urban school districts in terms of what is best for them.  The same thing applies to other states.

When I taught English in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I remember how tired seniors were in my first period composition class that began a few minutes after 8:00.  Whether starting school later that morning would mean that they wouldn’t stay up later the night before, however, is unclear.  Rather than make all public schools permanently comply, I suggest a one-year trial period.

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2 Replies to “School start times should be local decision”

  1. Agree that school start times should be local decisions, but for a somewhat different reason. Here in Virginia, the recreation industry (amusement parks, beach areas, resorts) has a lot of political clout at the state level. They have used that clout to enact what’s commonly referred to as the “King’s Dominion” law (per a large amusement park located mid-state) that requires virtually all the school districts in the state to start the fall semester after Labor Day. Most school districts in Virginia, if left to their own decision-making, would start the fall semester sometime in August. I recognize that the fall-semester-start-date issue is different from the morning-start-time issue. But, there is the common element of allowing local districts to make the decision unless there is a compelling argument for stripping the local districts of this option.

    Re the morning-start-time issue — I might be sympathetic to state control re this narrow issue if I knew more about why California wants to implement the state-wide rule. In my local area (DC suburbs), the morning-start-time issue has been hotly debated for decades with the start-high-schools-early side prevailing. My anecdotal experience suggests that the debate pits the anti-school-spending crowd and the high-school-sports crowd against the pro-academics crowd, with the teachers themselves split between the I-have-young-kids-so-I-need-to-get-home-early crowd against the it’s-easier-to-teach-awake-students crowd. In terms of political clout, the anti-school-spending crowd and the high-school-sports crowd are more committed/vocal than the pro-academics crowd. Seems that a compelling public-health case supports a later high school starting time + that local politics prevents the local districts from doing what is right re the school starting time. Of course, in a low-income rural area (as opposed to my high-income suburban area), there may be a stronger case for an early school starting time.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: In a state as large as California, it’s hard to understand why the uniform start-up- time law passed. The needs of students in rural areas of the state are entirely different from those of students in urban areas. I also wonder if starting school earlier will simply mean that students will go to bed later. In other words, they will not benefit. Anecdotally, I vividly remember how tired seniors in my first period English composition class were. They looked as if they had stayed up all night.

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