Board Votes 3-1 in Support of Late Start Measure

The South Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education voted 3 to 1 last week in favor of passing a resolution to support California Senate Bill 328, which would require classes at the middle and high school levels in all but rural districts to start half an hour later. This would mean an 8:30 a.m. start time for South Pasadena middle and high school. The bill was introduced to the state senate in February by 25th District State Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada).

As of June 8, SB 328 has passed through the State Senate and is currently in the Education Committee of the State Assembly. If it is approved by the Education Committee, it still has to pass through the Appropriations Committee before finally making it to the assembly floor.

The “no” vote came from School Board Clerk Jon Primuth. “I think there is a pretty big loophole in the bill, which is that zero period is not regulated,” explained Primuth, referring to part b of the legislation. His biggest concern, he says, is preventing zero period from becoming the start time for high-achieving, driven students. In response to this concern, Senator Portantino said, “Zero period is optional not mandatory. Although SB 328 is agnostic on zero period most schools that start zero before first period will adjust later as first period moves. The net effect will be students getting more sleep. Again, research shows that morning, deep sleep, is the most important sleep for teen public health. These students will receive this additional time, too and thereby gain health value.”

Primuth also said that he didn’t “feel comfortable making a decision for every district in the state.” Board Member Dr. Suzie Abajian shared Primuth’s hesitancy to support a statewide mandate. However, she said, this was a special circumstance. “I am not usually one to support state wide, one size fits all types, but in this case I do find the research compelling. And I think there are other issues, such as after school programs. If it is not implemented state wide, in the case of CIF, [CIF] will not change its scheduling if there wasn’t a statewide mandate, and for that reason I think that [SB 328] will simplify the issue and force, essentially, afterschool sports programs to align with the new schedule,” said Dr. Abajian.

Portantino says that in addition to afterschool scheduling program issues, there is another crucial reason for why the bill must pass on a statewide level to be effective. “This is a public health issue where we know from research the sleep needs of teenagers vs. the current level of sleep and the biology of teens,” he said. “We have negative health consequences attributed in that research. So no different than the state regulating the use of asbestos or lead paint we know what harms our children and it’s appropriate for the state to act accordingly.”

As of the May 25 Senate Floor Analysis, SB 328 is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California State PTA, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the California Federation of Teachers, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Office of Education, and Stanford University School of Medicine, among many other groups and individuals. It is opposed by the California School Boards Association and the California Teachers Association.

According to the Senate Floor Analysis, the fiscal impact of SB 328 includes “Very significant local costs for school districts to provide home-to-school transportation services and for local collective bargaining activities.” The other major concern regarding SB 328 is the potential impact on single and working parents who may not be able to provide their kids with transportation to school.

Notably, a group of South Pasadena High School students, represented by 2016-17 Student School Board Representative Anthony Chen, organized to support the resolution. This is in part what prompted Superintendent Geoff Yantz to put this resolution before the School Board.

Despite voting against approval of the resolution, Primuth remained interested in Portantino’s findings and hoped to support a local initiative that addresses his concerns. “I did attend Anthony Portantino’s presentation and I compliment him for working hard on this, he has certainly identified many compelling issues… I know that the La Canada board declined to support the bill, but they are moving forward with a customized local late start initiative, which is what I could support if we had administrators and all of our administration in line with that,” said Primuth.