Ohio public schools would not be allowed to begin their school day before 8:30 a.m. if a newly introduced bill passes the Ohio legislature.
Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, introduced Senate Bill 218 this week, days after California’s governor signed a related bill into law. The Ohio law would apply to district, charter and STEM schools at all grade levels.
While California’s law was based largely on research showing that teens need more sleep, that was a smaller part of Williams’ reasoning.
“We’ve seen in the news, children who have been hit by a bus while they’re waiting for their bus in the dark, or children being at risk of being kidnapped in the dark,” said Kierra Branch, senior legislative aide for Sen. Williams. “That definitely was a motivating factor.”
The majority of middle schools and high schools in the Dayton area start earlier than 8:30, as they cite busing costs, safety issues and student/family activity schedules.
Local schools start as early as 7 a.m. at Dayton’s middle schools, with high school students at Tecumseh, Lebanon and Springfield under way by 7:22 a.m. The latest bell times in the area include the 9:15/9:20 starts for some Trotwood, Huber Heights and Mason elementaries.
California’s law was rejected twice by lawmakers before a version passed. The version being enacted applies only to middle schools (no earlier than 8 a.m. start) and high schools (no earlier than 8:30). It exempts some rural school districts as well as optional classes and will be phased in over three years, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Several leading American medical groups have said teens shouldn’t start school before 8:30 a.m. The American Academy of Pediatrics says adolescents’ natural rhythms make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m., and teens lacking sleep often suffer from health problems, an increased risk of car accidents and a decline in academic performance.
John Kronour, superintendent of Northeastern schools, said his district follows some of the sleep research by starting its middle schools and high schools later than its elementaries. But he said it would be difficult to start all schools later.
“That shouldn’t be something that gets mandated (by the state),” Kronour said. “Each community should be able to decide their own start and end times.”
Mason schools moved back their middle school and high school start times this school year after community input, but only from 7:15 to 7:45. In interviews this summer, local school leaders argued against a one-size-fits-all requirement from the state. Staggered busing times by grade level are a key part of it, as they save schools money.
“We are aware of the sleep needs of adolescents and the research behind it, Talawanda schools spokeswoman Holli Morish said Wednesday, adding that the Talawanda Wellness Program has studied the issue. “Our school district would need to plan how this would work, as Talawanda is a 144-square-mile district that runs a secondary and elementary route each morning and afternoon with just one fleet of buses.”
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Kronour added schools might be more receptive to the late-start bill if the legislature offered more money to cover the cost of single-route busing, rather than the staggered approach.
While Williams’ bill pushes later start times for safety reasons, some local parents cited the opposite worry when interviewed this summer – that a later school start time would mean they’d have to leave for work while their young children were still home. A later start could also affect families where a working parent drops children off on their way to work.
Branch said Williams has not heard any push-back against the bill yet, but acknowledged it was only introduced a few days ago.
“Sen. Williams is more than happy if there are any concerns with the bill, to meet with interested parties and make necessary changes in the bill to make it better and inclusive for all,” she said.
Moving the high school schedule later would include some trade-offs, including a domino effect for student activities. A high school that starts at 8:30 or later may not dismiss until nearly 4 p.m. Later after-school sports and band practices can trigger a later dinner and later start to homework.
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