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School start times should be under local control

July 20, 2017 Uncategorized  0


Every morning the alarm clock goes off, I often want to reach over and hit the snooze button at least once, twice or even three times. And I can only imagine that my students, their siblings, families and colleagues go through the same turmoil at times. But while this may sound so right at the moment, I must get up and get my day started in order for the day to flow and not just for me but for my students.

La Cañada High School’s change to a later start time has received much coverage statewide. It occurs simultaneously and not accidentally with a bill introduced in the state Legislature, SB 328 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, that requires all middle and secondary students begin school no later than 8:30 a.m. The school district was diligent in determining a local interest, educating the community on the purpose behind the change, and giving parents multiple opportunities to share their concerns about short- and long-term effects before voting on the change for their local schools.

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This local decision was based on solid national research, including Stanford University studies and data gathered by La Cañada Unified School District. Educators support the efforts of such school boards that have successfully implemented a policy after discussion and debate.

While education experts, paraprofessionals and teachers will continue debate on the efficacy of later school start times, mandating a one-size-fits-all approach to the issue through passage of SB 328 is unsound public policy that strips decision-making power from local school boards of education while potentially saddling those same districts with costs required by implementation of the new law. It runs counter to our belief as educators that decisions are best made at the local level after thoughtful consideration of the multiple impacts that such a change may bring to a community.

Local control of our public schools is a cornerstone to quality public education in California. We trust that our parents and community members who work with their local education agencies and are embedded in those neighborhoods are best positioned to determine what is in the collective interest of students in those schools. Those decisions should be driven by local need — not dictated by Sacramento. Districts that weigh considerations and institute local change are encouraged to do so. This is local control at its best and most effective.

Educators want to ensure every student reaches their full potential, but if SB 328 passes, districts that have not engaged in that robust local dialogue will nonetheless be required to implement it whether it would be beneficial for local students or not. Districts would be required to absorb additional costs, develop parent communication absent support for the time change, and anticipate resulting impacts to student, parent and athletic schedules. Regardless of potential adverse impact to students, parents, and local schools, every California public middle and high school will begin at 8:30 a.m. or later.

This would create a financial burden in both geographically large and urban districts, where scores of miles and/or inner-city traffic patterns create challenges that are best resolved by local stakeholders — not Sacramento.

The Lodi Unified School District covers more than 350 square miles and cannot comply without adding nine busses to its fleet. This legislation would lay a million dollar-plus burden at Lodi Unified’s doorstep and offers no solution to a problem of Sacramento’s creation.

With the enrollment and amount of busing in the San Diego Unified School District, an even greater financial burden is expected here. Where will that money be taken from? A host of adverse options await us. Will it be larger class sizes, fewer counselors, cuts to junior college field trips or eliminating some other valued student program?

And now let’s turn to what this would do to students participating in athletic programs. Millions of students and families will face a major shake-up to their routines if school start times would change.

The California Interscholastic Foundation, the organizing body for all prep athletics in the state, may have been a powerful ally in how to navigate later athletic practices and competitive events that would be affected by the mandate. Sadly, such an outreach was not made, and those impacts were not considered.

It’s very clear that we must work together and at the local level to discuss such monumental changes that are sure to have lasting impacts on our students, families and communities. The San Diego Education Association cannot support SB 328, since it’s a policy that prevents local school boards and parents from making informed decisions in the best interest of all San Diego public school students.

Burningham is president of the San Diego Education Association.

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