A Push for Late Start for Schools By Anthony Portantino

State Senator urges Board of Education to start high school and middle school no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

PHOTO: Bill Glazier | SouthPasadenan.com News | Anthony Portantino addresses the school board, during his initial push for the "Late Start Bill" last December

Anthony Portantino has looked at all the data, evidence and research and come to the conclusion that the start time for middle school and high school students should be no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

The state senator stressed the importance for the passage of SB 328 during Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting in South Pasadena. In September the measure fell well short in the Assembly, receiving 26 of the 41 votes needed for passage.

Portantino (D-La Cañada-Flintridge), who authored the bill, said he’s committed to seeing it become law and will continue to bang the drum about its merits. “There’s 20 years on the sleep health of teenagers that says if they get that extra hour of sleep in the morning, they perform better and are healthier,” he said. “Drug use goes down while test scores go up. Marijuana use goes down. Smoking goes down. Obesity goes down.  GPA goes up, attendance goes up while sports injuries go down.  It’s all based on giving teenagers that extra little sleep in the morning.”

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PHOTO: Bill Glazier | SouthPasadenan.com | Anthony Portantino addresses the school board on Tuesday evening

Portantino claims both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommend that high school and middle school students should get a later start in the classroom.

“Even schools that start 15 minutes later see a benefit,” said the senator. “It’s all based on the sleep patterns of teens. The actual melatonin level in their brain chemistry prevents them from falling asleep before 11 O’clock at night on average. So, if teenagers go to bed at 9 p.m., they won’t fall asleep until 11. So, it’s okay for your teenager to be doing homework at 10 O’clock. That’s when the brain chemistry wants them to be doing their homework. The morning sleep has the most therapeutic value for their health. Under the current system, we wake them up when they’re getting the most important sleep of the day.”

Portantino is advocating that, “California should follow the science and see the positive, measurable increase in student achievement and a person’s public health,” he stressed.

In June, the Board of Education passed a resolution in support of SB 328, 3-1 (Jon Primuth dissenting, Michele Kipke absent).  “The research is compelling. It’s overwhelming in support of late start,” said School Board member Julie Giulioni. “There’s a really good case for it. There is tons of research about the brain chemistry of students this age and their inability to actually go to sleep at 11 or 12 at night. When they are forced to get up at 5, 6, or 7 a.m. to get to class, it becomes a real hardship.”

Elisabeth Eilers, who also sits on the Board, said she’s much in favor of late start, noting: “You can see that kids are more alert late at night and just don’t function as well in the morning. There are positive ramifications on their performance and concentration with a late start program.”

Another proponent of the effort is School Board Member Dr. Michele Kipke, who added: “I’m absolutely in favor of it. Truly, there is so much evidence that kids in schools with late start have much better academic performance. They are much healthier kids, much happier kids. The evidence has been growing for the last 15 years.”

La Cañada High School is undergoing a pilot late start program this year. “We can actually look at their experiences and learn from their lessons,” explained Kipke. “If they were able to pull this off and have the positive outcomes we’re looking for, I think it’s absolutely something we should be considering.”

New Board of Education President Jon Primuth weighed in on the issue by saying, “The studies of late start schools are strong evidence students benefit in many, many ways from a school schedule that allows them to sleep more.  We have to adapt to their developmental needs. Sure, school is supposed to challenge them to become adults, but let’s let them develop their full potential first.”

When the local school board voted on the senator’s bill, Primuth opposed the idea. “What I didn’t like in Anthony Portantino’s bill was the exemption for zero period which is a huge loophole with the potential for inequity among different districts and student groups,” he said.  “In other words, I saw the potential for a lot of games to be played with zero period to inhibit the benefits. It’s perhaps a minor point because I support the idea of late start in theory.”

Opponents contend starting no earlier than 8:30 a.m. should be a decision made by individual school districts, not a blanket statewide system. One lawmaker argued in the Assembly that schools would be faced with altering traditional campus schedules, events and activities. “Each individual school board should make that determination, incorporating the needs of their local communities,” Assemblyman Matthew Harper of Huntington Beach told the Los Angeles Times. “This one-size-fits-all approach really is kind of ridiculous.”