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Less of a yawn: School districts in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties prepare for school days with a later start 

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Kids across San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties are set to get a few extra minutes of shuteye when their school year begins later this month, and they have Senate Bill 328 to thank for it.

Approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October 2019, the bill required the school day for California middle and high schools, including charter schools, to start no earlier than 8 and 8:30 a.m., respectively. The new start time was supposed to be implemented by July 1, 2022, but some schools on the Central Coast took the initiative sooner.

click to enlarge BE PREPARED Lompoc Unified School District schools, including Lompoc High (pictured), are preparing to welcome students back to campus on Aug. 15. While schools across the state are gearing up for new start times, Lompoc is among a few Central Coast districts that implemented the later start times last school year. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LOMPOC UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
  • Photo Courtesy Of Lompoc Unified School District
  • BE PREPARED Lompoc Unified School District schools, including Lompoc High (pictured), are preparing to welcome students back to campus on Aug. 15. While schools across the state are gearing up for new start times, Lompoc is among a few Central Coast districts that implemented the later start times last school year.

"We did do it a year ahead because we had already changed our bell schedule and had been on distance learning, and had a deregulated student schedule with COVID," said Erin Haley, the assistant superintendent of the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District. "So we knew this was coming in the 2022-2023 school year, and so we thought, 'We're going to implement it early and that way we can have consistency and we already know it's the direction that we're going.' It's been quite positive actually."

The Paso Robles school district also staggered start times across elementary, middle, and high schools, with classes beginning at 8, 8:15, and 8:30 a.m., respectively.

"It is very nice for families who have kids in multiple grade levels because they can get across town. It's sometimes tricky when the start times are too close together because parents have to drop them off early," Haley said.

SB 328 received approval based on several studies that showed students—especially teenagers—performed better academically and had higher attendance and improved overall health at schools that started later, which offered them more time to sleep.

"I think students like the later start. It's true that teenagers require a lot of sleep, and it does provide that opportunity," Haley said. "What we do notice though is that it shifts the entire day. So, kids who play sports, or who have as activities, such as dance, cheer, band, are all shifted later in the afternoon. Kids are now getting out at 3:30 p.m. instead of 3 p.m."

There are other impacts of SB 328 beyond a school day that ends later than usual. Students belonging to the agricultural communities of SLO and Santa Barbara counties may have more of an adjustment period when it comes to drop-offs and pickups, especially if their families start work early. But Haley informed New Times that the Paso Robles school district anticipated this potential setback.

The district offers on-site tutoring run by volunteering teachers. Some teachers can choose to teach during the zero-period slot (before first period), and a handful of sport and extracurricular practices take place during this time to avoid staying later after classes. Students who need to be dropped off earlier can use the library, which opens before school starts. Moreover, the district's campuses offer breakfasts to students.

"I think communication is key and understanding the why around decisions that are made and making sure that we can support all kids," Haley said. "So if there are kids who need to be dropped off earlier, we should continue to provide a safe space for them as well. That is the role of public schools, and I'm really proud of the work that Paso Robles has done in extending our support for academic and social and emotional supports.

"I think there are opportunities we can look at to support kids before the late start time."

Many Paso Robles parents are happy with the new schedule too. One such parent is Karen Hoye Grandoli, who appreciated the time change but said it came with a learning curve.

"For my high schooler it was better. He got to sleep a little longer which was good because his after-school sport practices were 6 to 8 [p.m.]. They don't even practice at the high school for soccer," she said. "By the time he got home and had dinner, shower, time to relax and finish homework it was late. He also has a part-time job on days when he didn't practice or have games.

"A lot of people complained the month or so before school started, then everyone seemed to have it figured out," she continued. "I do believe the science that teens' natural circadian rhythm makes them more productive this way."

But not everyone thinks the late start helps with sleep. A delayed end to the school day cuts into time for homework and rest once kids leave their campus. One mother of a teenager in Atascadero High School (AHS), who requested to remain anonymous, told New Times that her daughter struggled with school days ending at 3:45 p.m.

"My daughter didn't like getting out late. She was exhausted and felt like she didn't have enough time to get her homework done. She lost a lot of sleep, but she also had a heavy workload. AHS also changed from block schedule [longer class periods that meet fewer times per week] to seven classes a day, with very short break and lunch times. She said most students prefer block schedule," she said.

Atascadero and Paso Robles are some of the first school districts in SLO County to make the switch to a later start time. In the neighboring Santa Barbara County, the Lompoc Unified School District also changed its schedules last year.

Bree Valla, deputy superintendent of the Lompoc school district, told New Times that the late start time went into place to smooth the transition process from online to in-person learning once schools reopened last year during the pandemic.

"Students were used to being able to roll out of bed and directly log on to their computer," Valla laughed. "Their sleeping habits have definitely changed. So, being able to start a little bit later is attributed to get to school on time, focus, not miss out on learning. I think our staff are grateful that that part of the change is done. So, this year, they [students and staff] know what to expect as opposed to having another change thrown on them."

One of the changes the Lompoc school staff dealt with was the new start time's effect on school bus timings and routes. The busing schedule was one of the first elements the district designed when considering an early implementation of SB 328. The main knot to untangle was that many of the district's buses transport both elementary and high school students.

"In some ways, it's made it a little easier to have staggered start times between our elementary and secondary schools because we can drop off the elementary and go start our secondary pickups," Valla said. "It has made the afternoons a little bit more complicated because now they all kinda get out closer to the same time. But luckily, we have very creative transportation staff and bus drivers who step up and do whatever is needed to get it done."

Like Haley in Paso Robles, Valla credited effective communication as the solution to navigate the schedule, especially for the other school districts that will experience the new time this year.

"Make sure you do your absolute best to make sure your website is updated. The frustrating thing with Google is people can search and unknowingly pull up old bell schedules," Valla said. "People have a lot to do to get kids ready to come back to school. Often, this is one of the last things they think about, so constant repetition so that they remember things are a little different this year." Δ

Reach Staff Writer Bulbul Rajagopal at brajagopal@newtimesslo.com.

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