School bells ring later for San Jose students
Students at Piedmont Hills High School in San Jose are starting later in the day than previous years. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

Mornings will start later for San Jose high school and middle school students this year due to a new, first-in-the-nation state law.

California has moved back the clocks to an 8:30 a.m. or later start time for high schoolers and an 8 a.m. or later time for middle schoolers. The decision went into effect July 1, after advocates pushed for a way to tackle sleep deprivation among teenagers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 328 into law in 2019, following years of nationwide efforts from organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. The group argues sleep deprivation in teens can lead to health issues including obesity and depression, which in turn impact academic performance.

Lisa Whitfield, a developmental psychology professor at Santa Clara University, said ample research shows more sleep improves teens’ mental well-being and ability to get through the day.

“When kids start school at 7 a.m… even if their eyes are open, they’re not necessarily really processing. Some kids literally are asleep in school,” Whitfield told San José Spotlight. “There’s definitely a lot of good evidence to suggest that kids that are well rested can regulate their emotions better.”

Schedule changes

Although school officials agree that teens need more sleep, the new bell schedules can result in other logistical issues that could impact students, parents and school employees alike.

Later start times may not achieve the intended goal, said Teresa Marquez, East San Jose Union High School District associate superintendent of educational services. With a later start time, she said students might stay up longer at night and still not get those needed hours of sleep.

“We want our kids to get sleep. We want them to get their seven to eight hours,” Marquez told San José Spotlight.  “We’ll have to look at the data in terms of tardiness in the morning and attendance to see if (those start times) actually have an impact.”

The change in the morning schedule also shifts the end of school to as late as 4 p.m. Earlier class options previously allowed students to leave school at 3 p.m. or even earlier for extracurriculars or athletic activities. Student athletes may now need more excused absences from classes to make it to sporting events and games, Marquez said.

Not all students are happy about the schedule change. Piedmont Hills High School junior Chao-Chi Yang’s entire schedule is shifting an hour, making it likely he’ll arrive home for dinner later than he does already, he said. Sophomore Trinity Yu, part of the leadership with mental health club Bring Change to Mind, thinks most students will likely stay up later to catch up on work.

“I feel like my day got extended and I lost about an hour each day,” Yu told San José Spotlight.

Whitfield said students who are caretakers of younger siblings may also be impacted by a later end to the school day.

“We have to be really vigilant about making sure that all kids have a way to take advantage of (later start times)… There might be parents relying on high school-aged kids for childcare for younger siblings, ” Whitfield said. “(Students) might have jobs that… help contribute to family income.”

Ahead of the clock

Overfelt High School implemented a later bell schedule last year, Associate Principal Jennifer Castro told San José Spotlight. The school had to work with students and parents whose work schedules conflict with later start times.

“Some of the challenges that we saw last year were, ‘How do we open campus for a safe space for students whose parents have to drop them (off) early?’” Castro said. “We made sure that our library was open. We made sure that a staff member was there, ensuring that it’s a safe space for students to be in.”

Having later start times tackles the stigma of being tardy, Tomara Hall, a special education teacher at Dartmouth Middle School, told San José Spotlight. While teachers are concerned about potentially having longer work days, the change can ultimately help students be more successful.

“Often, the students of color are the ones who are being targeted for being late, and… they’re getting written up. They might lose their lunch or their recess,” Hall said. “We’re going to have less chronic absenteeism, which overwhelmingly impacts students of color, specifically Black students. We won’t have that stigma of focusing on the lateness and be more focused on the students’ needs.”

Changes like this require constant communication and feedback with parents and students to ensure an equitable school environment, Castro said.

“We need to make sure that what we are doing is best for all our students,” Castro told San José Spotlight.

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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