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District nixes La Jolla High’s later start pilot program

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According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, insufficient sleep in adolescents ‘affects the health and safety, and academic success of our nation’s middle and high school students.’
(Courtesy)

San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has quietly denied a pilot program proposed by La Jolla High School and Muirlands Middle School to start their day at 8:30 a.m. next year (instead of the traditional 7:30 a.m.) The decision was announced Feb. 8 via an e-mail to parents from the principals of both schools.

It read in part: “La Jolla High and Muirlands Middle School submitted a proposal to pilot a ‘Healthy Start’ time of 8:30 a.m. for next year. We appreciate all of the hard work from our parent groups, staff and students to develop the proposal. … Unfortunately, we were notified today that we cannot implement the 8:30 start time for the next school year because it does not end up being a cost-neutral solution for the district. Our plan will be to continue with our current start times (7:25 a.m. for La Jolla High School and 7:30 a.m. for Muirlands Middle School) for the 2019-20 school year. Again, we want to thank you for all your hard work and support and will continue to keep you posted if anything changes.”

The pilot program garnered the approval of La Jolla High School’s Site Governance Team (SGT) — comprised of teachers, parents and administrators — on Jan. 17. Two weeks later, the SGT of Muirlands Middle School followed suit, and approved a later start time pilot program to be in synch with the high school to accommodate the students that walk to La Jolla High for classes and programs.

The proposal then proceeded to the appropriate SDUSD departments for final approvals. But it was instead rejected.

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Responding to the denial, a group of parents wrote a letter to La Jolla Light and other local media.

It read, in part: “Families and students of Muirlands Middle School and La Jolla High School are very concerned, disappointed and angry about this situation, especially because the District’s denial came just a few days after the proposal submission, making it seem like they really don’t care.”

However, not everyone was in favor of the change. One Muirlands parent (who wished to remain anonymous) wrote: “I am highly concerned about a late start day … As a working parent, I do not have the privilege to simply delay the start of my day. It takes a lot of energy to organize the life of our children.” The parent went on to report that 120 students were tardy when the school implemented a late-start minimum day (which starts later rather than lets out early on short days).

The La Jolla Cluster Association has been advocating for the later start time for years, joining a list of health agencies that agree. As previously reported in the Light, in 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported it recognizes insufficient sleep in adolescents as “an important public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success, of our nation’s middle and high school students.” The American Academy of Sleep Medicine adds, “During puberty, adolescents become sleepy later at night (around 11 p.m.) and need to sleep later in the morning as a result in shifts in biological rhythms.”

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So it is just a matter of time?

Senate Bill 328, or the Healthy Start Initiative, is making the legislative rounds. It would require middle schools and high schools, including those operated as charter schools, to begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. SB 328 was vetoed by former California Gov. Jerry Brown in late 2018. However, current Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to support the bill when it arrives on his desk.

In the meaning, during the SDUSD’s Feb. 12 meeting, a working group was established to put together a District-wide healthy start time initiative for the 2020-2021 school year, and approved a resolution forming the working group 5-0.

In explaining the concept, SDUSD board trustee John Lee Evans said: “The principle here is two out of three high school students are sleep deprived and most schools (in San Diego) start before 8:30 a.m. … the resolution we have before us recognizes the overwhelming scientific evidence (in favor of) a later start times for high school students. It’s not a debatable issue among the scientific community. I see it as a public health issue just like vaccinations.”

He added the “goal” is to have all San Diego high schools on 8:30 a.m. or later start times by the fall of 2020, and that the working group would look into the challenges associated with that (such as coordinating bus schedules and athletics) and find solutions.

“It’s exciting that we can move forward and work together on this,” he said.

Trustee Mike McQuary added some schools are “ready” and would start later starting in the 2019 school year, with complete roll-out the year after: “It’s not if we should do this, it’s how.”