By CHAZ PLAGER
If you’re a parent, you know just how dangerous a cranky teen is. And teens who don’t get enough sleep are just that.
With schools starting between 7 and 8 a.m. for most middle and high schools, teens often find themselves grumpy and tired, to the misfortune of everyone around them.
More sleep for teens means less cranky attitude and more focus in school which leads to better grades. Tests conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have shown that more sleep for teens has a direct correlation with higher grades and more positive attitudes. Schools which daily started later performed markedly better on exams than schools who had an earlier start time.
Thus, California lawmakers decided to implement a new law, SB 328, known as the “Later School Start Bill,” which was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in October 2019, and became effective July 1 this year.
All public high schools must start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., and middle schools no earlier than 8 am. It applies to charter schools, too, but private high schools get a pass – as do rural schools – although the latter schools are not clearly defined in the bill’s text.
So, this is an objectively good thing, right? Well, it’s not quite so cut and dry. Palisades Charter High School, located just at the top of Temescal Canyon, has students from more than 100 zip codes.
Moving PCHS’s start time from 7:50 to 8:30 a.m. might not seem too much of a deal but consider this: Imagine being a student who needs 30 minutes to get to the high school.
Before the new law, you’d be leaving at 7:15-7:20 a.m. Now, compare 7:15 traffic to 7:45 a.m. or even 8 a.m. traffic. Anyone who drives to the school knows there’s a big difference in traffic density and by delaying the time one leaves, students will be in the car longer.
Students who live that far away will likely be going at the same time as they did in the school year 2021-2022, and not getting any more sleep. Now, I’m lucky enough to live very close to the school, so this benefits me and other students who live in the Palisades.
However, Jesse Quezada, a student who lives 40 minutes away by car, is uniquely hurt by this bill. “My parents’ work hours aren’t going to be pushed forward, so I will just needlessly spend extra time in the morning waiting for class to start, when a person who lives in Pali gets to sleep longer,” he said. “It’s not fair.”
Despite being designed to give students more sleep, this bill seems to be quite ineffectual for students who rely on their parents to drive them. This new start time is only useful for people who live in the Palisades, which is unfortunate.
In a 2019 PaliHi Tideline Article (“California Mandates Later School Start Times”), “sociology and world history teacher Jeanne Saiza said, ‘I wholeheartedly agree that students need more sleep, but my fear is that, with L.A. traffic patterns, it won’t really make a difference for students.’ She believes that students’ departure will now coincide with adults heading to work, meaning that students will still end up leaving for school at the same time.”
I reached out to PCHS principal Dr. Pamela McGee for her perspective. She replied in a July 27 email, “PCHS adopted a new bell schedule to meet the state mandated 8:30 a.m. start time. PCHS plans to closely monitor the traffic impact for families who travel from various parts of Los Angeles to attend our school. The campus Study Center and Library will be open for students who arrive before the start of the school day beginning on the first day of school which is Wednesday, August 17.” She included the new bell schedule (see below).
While good on paper, in principle, it seems this new policy affects some students at Pali in a negative way.
Most schools are not like Pali and the majority of people who attend other schools live within two to three miles of the school. So why is Pali faced with such a unique problem?
Because the schools close to many of those who live within those 100 zip codes are, to be frank, not good. That’s the reason I was most commonly given as to why students travel so far when I asked them about living in places like Westwood or South Central.
Simply moving up the start time won’t help people like Jesse who need to attend a school far from them just because they want a good education. If this problem of sleep deprivation truly wants to be solved by California lawmakers, they should consider focusing on local education first. Whatever the case, it’s clear that this isn’t a problem that we can sleep on.
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