New CA Law Could Reduce Student Depression by Letting Kids Sleep In

The law, taking effect this school year statewide, will push back start times in response to a national rise in teen sleep deprivation

It has long been understood that sleep is one of the most important factors in cognitive development and mental health, especially during adolescence. Unfortunately, due to early school start times and rigorous academic and extracurricular schedules, many middle and high school students are not getting the doctor-recommended snooze time. 

That’s why a new California law, Senate Bill 328, taking effect as kids return to classrooms this year requires middle schools to start no earlier than 8:00 a.m. and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m. And while they might miss the sunrise, it’s unlikely many kids will be complaining about the later start times.

The new bill, introduced by State Sen. Anthony Portantino and co-sponsored by the nonprofit Start School Later and the California State Parent Teacher Association, will also give school districts a chance to streamline start times and reduce school transportation costs. 

“Before the pandemic, SFUSD schools began the day at 19 different times, ranging from 7:40 to 9:30 a.m.,” Laura Dudnick, public relations manager for the San Francisco Unified School District, told KTLA. “This was unusual for school districts and presented logistical challenges for families and school communities.”

Now SFUSD has organized start times district-wide into three tiers, 7:50, 8:40, and 9:30, so that one bus can transport kids to three different schools, reducing costs. 

“Spacing out school start times also allows the district to use buses more efficiently. SFUSD saves about $3 million each year in transportation costs, which can instead be spent on directly supporting students,” Dudnick said. 

Other districts state-wide have already started pushing back start times, albeit gingerly. In Sacramento, Raj K. Rai, the director of communication for the San Juan Unified School District, said that the district has been moving start times forward by 5 minute increments each year since 2017. 

“There were concerns from parents about adjusting start times, and so I think that’s where the five minutes came in,” he said.

The California law taking effect in the 2022/23 school year will not apply to schools in rural areas, partially due to logistical complications of reorganizing bus schedules.

The push to later start times is in large part a response to a nationwide rise in sleep deprivation among teens in the last decade. 

A report released by the National Sleep Foundation in 2006, found that more than 87 percent of high school students in the United States get far less than the recommended eight to 10 hours, and the time they do sleep is decreasing. According to a report published by Stanford Medicine, this finding represents “a serious threat to [students’] health, safety and academic success.” 

In 2014, another study, this time by the American Academy of Pediatrics, called the problem of sleep deprivation in teens a “public health epidemic.”

Sleep deprivation has been proven to negatively impact mental health, and increase chances of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, antisocial behaviors and early death. It could be one reason that from 2016 to 2020 levels of anxiety and depression among kids has increased by 26 percent nationally and by 70 percent in California, according to a nationwide study.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2022 Kids Count Data Book also ranked California 33rd overall in child well-being, the same ranking the Golden State earned in 2021. 

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