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New law pushes back school start times
Under a new law signed by Gov. Newsom, students at Turlock Junior High School — along with all the other middle and high school students in the state — will start school a little bit later in the day beginning in July 2022 (Photo contributed).

The groan of “five more minutes” from students struggling to get out of bed every morning throughout California will soon be a thing of the past — hopefully — thanks to a new bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom that pushes back school start times.

Newsom signed legislation Sunday that requires middle schools to start no earlier than 8 a.m. and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m., with the exception of optional early classes. The law applies to both public and charter schools, though rural school districts are exempt, and requires schools to implement the change in start times by July 1, 2022. Schools can implement the new start times sooner if its three-year collective bargaining agreement expires before the date.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino cited information from the American Academy of Pediatrics while advocating for the bill, which he authored, pointing to studies that found links between more sleep from later start times and better school performance — and better health — among students. A legislative analysis of the bill conducted in July found that about half the schools in the state would be required to push back their start times by 30 minutes or less to comply with the new law.

“Today, Governor Newsom displayed a heartwarming and discerning understanding of the importance of objective research and exercised strong leadership as he put our children’s health and welfare ahead of institutional bureaucracy resistant to change. Generations of children will come to appreciate this historic day and our Governor for taking bold action,” Portantino said. “Our children face a public health crisis. Shifting to a later start time will improve academic performance and save lives because it helps our children be healthier...When I heard the good news I literally got choked up because of the overwhelming positive impact this will have on our children and for the deep appreciation for everyone who took this journey together.”

Data also shows that the shift will be not only beneficial for students mentally, but monetarily as well. The change in start times implemented over the next three years won’t cost school districts anything, but will result in more students coming to school, and therefore, more Average Daily Attendance funding from the State.

Turlock Unified School District stated it was too early to comment on the new law, but anticipates changes and impacts to areas like transportation, meals and extracurricular start times at the middle and high school levels.

“Thankfully, we have a couple of years to plan and work collaboratively with stakeholders to make the transition smooth and doable,” the District said.

Currently, Dutcher Middle School classes start at 8:15 a.m. so no change will be necessary, but Turlock Junior High School classes begin at 7:50 a.m. Pitman High School classes start at 7:55 a.m., while Roselawn and Turlock High School classes start at 8 a.m.

Though PHS senior Kevin Romo won’t be in high school anymore in 2022, the student used his nearly four years of experience waking up for class to weigh in on the new law. It will benefit students, he believes — especially those with heavy course loads who struggle to find enough time in the day to do their homework, participate in extracurricular activities and get eight hours of sleep.  

“Many forget that we are teenagers and have social lives as well, which keep a majority of us mentally sane. This isn’t even including those who do sports after school as well,” Romo said. “The push in start time will allow us enough time for us to finish all of our school work at the quality in which we would like, as well as get a decent amount of time to sleep and prepare for the next day.”

Over at Turlock High School, freshmen Allyson Peterson and Kendall Lima — who will eventually be affected by the new law — believe it will negatively impact both students and parents.

“Working parents won’t be able to drop off their kids at this time and it will result in students being dropped off at the same time as if schools started earlier, but instead leaving them with nowhere to go,” Lima said.

“I also think this would cause many students wandering campus unsupervised and possibly hanging out in places they aren’t supposed to be, thus causing even more problems,” Peterson said.

After school activities would also go later into the day, actually leaving less time to do homework and prepare for the next day of learning, the pair argued.

“School will get out later, pushing after-school sports and homework later into the day, which would result in later bedtimes and the same amount of sleep students are getting now.”

The new law makes California the first state in the nation to mandate later start times. Former Gov. Jerry Brown rejected similar legislation last year, stating it should be left up to local communities.