Hitting Snooze on School Start Times

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When Gov. Gavin Newsom signed S.B. 328 last month, California became the first state to mandate school start times. Starting in 2022, high schools must start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and middle schools must start no earlier than 8 a.m., affecting at least half of schools that start earlier.

An analysis shows that the average start time nationwide is 8:03 a.m. Efforts to push back start times have cited research suggesting that adolescent students do not get enough sleep and that later start times would allow for more sleep — leading to better health, better academic performance and more positive social outcomes.

However, implementing later school start times does not come without challenges. Changes to school start times could impact after-school activities, transportation and child care for families with children with different start times; and it might also include upfront costs to districts.

Though decisions on school start times are usually made at school or district levels, states have been considering later start times for the past several years. At least three states have enacted legislation to study the issue or in one case, create a pilot program to push back school start times.

Enacted state legislation

Indiana H.B. 1005 (2016) urged the Legislative Council to assign to the appropriate study committee the topic of school start time effects on “student safety, student achievement, and lost instruction time for students.”

Maryland H.B. 883 (2014) required the department of health and mental hygiene to conduct a study of safe and healthy school hours for public schools that specifically reviews the science of sleep needs of children and adolescents. Enacted in 2016, H.B. 39 established the Orange Ribbon for Healthy School Hours certification. To receive Orange Ribbon certification, a district may not have (1) an elementary school requiring a student to be in class before 8 a.m. and board a school bus before 7 a.m. or (2) a middle or high school requiring a student to be in class before 8:30 a.m. and board a school bus before 7:30 a.m.

New Jersey S.B. 2484 (2015) directed the department of education to conduct a study on the issues, benefits and options for instituting a later start time in middle and high school. The study culminated in this 2017 report, which noted that though pushing back start times would present logistical challenges, it would result in positive outcomes for “students’ health, safety, well-being, and academic performance.” However, it ultimately concluded that school start times should not be mandated by the New Jersey Legislature or the New Jersey Department of Education but rather should be determined by local school districts. This year the state passed S.B. 3160, which creates a four-year pilot program on later school start times for high schools in five selected school districts.

Considered state legislation

In October 2019, Ohio introduced S.B. 218, which would mandate that schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. This bill is still pending. Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota and Rhode Island also introduced bills in the past three sessions that would have mandated schools to start later or would have created studies, but none passed.

We frequently receive questions from policymakers on issues like these. A full response to a question on policies regulating school start times can be found here. If you have more questions about this or other education policy topics, please contact us.

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Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States | spompelia@ecs.org

As policy analyst, Sarah works on a range of education policy issues from early learning to workforce development. Sarah comes to Education Commission of the States with experience as a middle and elementary school teacher. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy and has two master's degrees in social work and public policy from the University of Denver.

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