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California pushes back school start times for middle and high school students

Students in California, rejoice. You'll soon be able to sleep in a little more. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that pushes school start times later. CREDIT: Compassionate Eye Foundation/Robert Kent/Getty Images

Students in California, rejoice. You’ll soon be able to sleep in a little more.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation on Sunday that pushes school start times later. Under the new law, middle schools will start classes at 8 a.m. or after, while high schools will start classes at 8:30 a.m. or after. Optional early classes will still be allowed.

The law applies to public and charter schools, though rural school districts are exempt. The new start times go into effect by July 1, 2022, or when a school’s collective bargaining agreement with its employees expires, whichever is later.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, who authored the bill, cheered the news in a Facebook post on Sunday.

“Our children’s health and welfare win!!! Thank you Governor Newsom for signing SB 328 to push high school and middle school start time later in the morning. This will have a tremendous benefit to student health and academic performance.”

Doctors say early start times are unhealthy for students

California’s move is in line with research and guidance from the nation’s top health organizations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association all recommend that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to help ensure that students arrive awake and ready to learn.

But more than four in five public middle and high schools in the US start earlier than that, according to a 2015 CDC study.

Simply telling teens to go to bed earlier isn’t ideal either.

Due to shifts in their biological rhythms, adolescents become sleepy later at night during puberty and need to sleep later into the morning, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine says. But a combination of poor sleep habits and early school start times means that most young people aren’t getting enough sleep.

AASM recommends that children aged 6 to 12 sleep nine to 12 hours a night, while teenagers should get eight to 10 hours of sleep. Only about one in four high school students nationwide got eight or more hours of sleep, according to a 2017 CDC study on youth risk behavior.

Getting less than the recommended amount of sleep is associated with problems in attention, behavior and learning, AASM says. Adolescents who don’t sleep enough are at increased risk of car accidents, obesity, diabetes and hypertension. They’re also more likely to engage in self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts and attempts.

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