A senate bill waiting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that would push back start times for middle- and high-school students inspired a call to action from Sierra Sands Board of Education directors Thursday night.
Dave Ostash, assistant superintendent for human resources, provided an oversight on Senate Bill 328. It would require start times for secondary school students to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by July 1, 2021.
“The district doesn’t know at this time what the financial impact will be if it’s passed as stated, but we do anticipate there would be an impact,” Ostash said. He said that it’s Superintendent Ernie Bell’s recommendation to draft a letter of concern and send it to the governor’s office.
The bell period for Sherman E. Burroughs High School starts early on most days, with a late start on Wednesday. For Murray and James Monroe middle schools, students start around 7:20 a.m., with a late start at 8 a.m. on Wednesdays.
The bill came up during the 2017 legislative period but stalled before it could be passed. Sen. Jean Fuller and Assemblyman Vince Fong both vocally opposed the bill at that time, citing it was illogical for either families and students or that it imposed on local districts’ control.
The bill’s supporters cited studies that show middle- and high-school students would benefit more in their studies if they were guaranteed more sleep.
Board member Bill Farris said it’s hopeful that Brown will veto it, but noted the governor is on his way out.
“The problem with the bill as I see it is that it removes the opportunity for local districts to make the determination on what is best for their students based on their organizations, their experience and their community,” Farris said. “I believe this decision should be in the hands of local districts — we have the ability to determine whether this will be a good opportunity for our students or if it will be detriment to our community in general.”
Farris encouraged the district to send a custom-tailored letter to Brown that addresses the specific impacts the bill would have on Sierra Sands schools. A form letter provided by an organization like California School Boards Association wouldn’t be nearly as effective.
He said those things include child care, elimination of “zero period” opportunities Sierra Sands has for its secondary school students, the struggle to travel outside the community for sports events, an adverse effect on clubs and organizations, and a diminished opportunity for older high school students to participate in the workforce.
Specificity will be in any letter, he said, using numbers he said he pulled from the air as examples.
“Four hundred students will lose this opportunity, 250 students will lose this opportunity, the music program in our high school will be gutted at this level, our working students who have these opportunities at this time of day will no longer have them,” Farris said.
He also noted the impact on parents’ work schedules if they work aboard NAWS China Lake, since many start early. They would have to adjust their work schedule or find a way to have their children find their way to school on their own.
“Our responsibility is for the whole child, for the whole experience both for the children and the community,” Farris said.
Farris also noted that when Brown proposed the Local Control Funding Formula that now defines school funding and services at the state level, “he was very clear that he thought the idea of subsidiary was very critical because the decisions ought to be made at a local level to address the needs.”
He also encouraged community members to write and call the governor’s office and state lawmakers.
“I think our community and those like it stand to lose a lot,” Farris said. “I don’t understand why people at the legislative level believe they know what is in the best interests of districts all over California, with the breadth of experiences and situations and circumstances we have.”
Farris also noted that it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.
“There may be some districts that this works well beautifully and have every ability to do it,” Farris said.
Board member Kurt Rockwell agreed with Farris’s assessment, especially the subsidiary piece written into the LCFF policy.
“It’s a decision that should not be made in Sacramento, it should be made at the local districts,” Rockwell said.
Board member Tim Johnson noted the bill’s requirements would have an impact on district bus schedules and transportation. Sierra Sands staggers its bus schedule to accommodate all of its schools.
“We’d have to get extra buses and drivers and probably have to change the schedules,” Johnson said.
Board president Amy Castillo-Covert noted there would be an impact on the elementary school start times as well, which has its own transportation concerns.
“It might be different if we were a high-school district, but since we are K-12, then it doesn’t just affect our high-school and middle-school students, it affects every one all the way down,” Castillo-Covert said.
Ostash said district staff can have a letter specific to Sierra Sands drafted by the end of business on Friday and sent to the Kern County Superintendent of Education’s office and the proper channels. The administration has already coordinated with school site principals on specific impacts.
He added that while the bill makes exceptions for rural school districts, to his knowledge, Sierra Sands falls into a “urban cluster” catergory.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an urban cluster refers to areas with populations of more than 2,500 people but less than 50,000. This includes urban areas with at least 10,000 people. Since Ridgecrest has estimated population of 28,800 as of 2017, it falls within number 70 on the list of urban areas in California based on the 2010 Census results.
“As urban centers of this state have grown, obviously phenomenally over the decades, many of the school districts that traditionally have had transportation departments and bus their students because of their regional areas ... have dropped transportation except for special education students and contracted out activities, and field trips for activities and sports,” Ostash said.
Board members noted that even if Sierra Sands was considered a rural district, the bill would impact other schools that its athletic teams compete against.
Ostash noted Sierra Sands transportation system remains vital to the community’s school-age children.
“We are a very remote location and have a wide field of student geographic locations, so we have to stagger our bus start times,” Ostash said. “There are a lot of districts like ours in Kern County and other counties ... so we anticipate a very strong showing of some of the complications of this bill and the county hopes that it won’t pass at least in this fashion.”