Nine States Consider School Start Time Legislation in 2023
The movement toward safer, healthier school hours spearheaded by Start School Later Inc. continues to gain traction around the country
This month, Florida joined California in passing a law to start school later
(Severna Park, MD) This month, Florida became the second state in the nation to recognize the negative effects of too-early school start times on teens’ wellbeing. Joining California, Florida legislators overwhelmingly approved CS/HB 733. Now signed by the governor, the new law requires public middle schools and high schools to operate at healthy hours beginning in 2026.
Policymakers in eight other U.S. states are also considering legislation related to delaying secondary school class times, reflecting a growing recognition of the urgent need for school hours that support adolescent physical and mental health, safety, and school performance.
“Statewide parameters ensure that a child's ability to go to school at sleep-friendly hours won't vary by zip code.” -Terra Ziporyn Snider, PhD, co-founder and executive director of Start School Later.
In 2022 California became the first state in the nation to set a floor on how early most public middle and high schools can require attendance. Start School Later, Inc. – a national non-profit working to educate communities on teen sleep and school start times – co-sponsored that legislation, along with the California PTA.
The evidence supporting later school start times is so compelling that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2014 recommending that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
In Florida, nearly half of all public high schools now start before 7:30 a.m. The new law reads,
“By July 1, 2026, the instructional day for middle schools may not begin earlier than 8 a.m. and the instructional day for high schools may not begin earlier than 8:30 a.m. Each district school board must inform its community…about the health, safety, and academic impacts of sleep deprivation on middle school and high school students and the benefits of a later school start time and discuss local strategies to successfully implement the later school start times.”
Despite clear calls for change since the 1990s, many school districts may need statewide legislation to spur or support later start times.
“Establishing a statewide floor of 8:30 a.m. empowers local school districts to set their own schedules within healthy parameters for adolescents, as advised by pediatricians and health organizations,” said Terra Ziporyn Snider, PhD, co-founder and executive director of Start School Later. “Statewide parameters ensure that a child's ability to go to school at sleep-friendly hours won't vary by zip code.”
In addition to Florida, lawmakers in Connecticut (HB5522), Maine (LD257), Massachusetts (HD5140/H3980), New Jersey (A3816/S2462), New Mexico (HM56), New York (A00440/S05449), Oregon (HB2751), and Texas (HB1691/HB363) have been discussing school start times during this year’s sessions.
The Nevada State Board of Education is also exploring the topic of school start times, and a bill in the U.S. Congress (HR8787) would direct the Secretary of Education to conduct a study to examine the relationship between school start times and adolescent health, well-being, and performance.
At least two decades of research have consistently shown that when school starts later more students (and often their parents and teachers) get more sleep, with benefits including improved mental health, less substance use, fewer car crashes involving teen drivers, better academic performance (particularly for disadvantaged students), and higher graduation rates.
Adolescents require about nine or so hours of sleep each night for healthy growth and development, yet biological shifts in the circadian clock during puberty mean they often can’t fall asleep before 11:00 p.m. or wake naturally before at least 8:00 a.m. With some U.S. schools starting as early as 7:00 a.m. (and wake-up and commute times even earlier), it’s not surprising that the CDC has reported that 7 out of 10 teens do not get enough sleep on school nights.
In addition to health, safety, and academic benefits, the RAND Corporation projects that starting middle and high school classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m. would boost the U.S. economy by at least $8.6 billion within the first two years, outweighing any costs of changing bell times.
When she began researching school start times, Start School Later Rochester Hills MI Chapter leader Katherine Nitz “was blown away by all the benefits. I kept advocating because, honestly, I could not find a scientifically compelling reason for the status quo as a benefit for kids.”
In addition to pediatricians, many other health and education organizations urge sleep-friendly school start times, including the CDC, American Medical Association, National PTA, National Education Association, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Society of Behavioral Medicine, and the National Association of School Nurses.
Wheatleigh Dunham led the Start School Later Greenwich CT Chapter’s successful effort to start school later, which benefited his youngest child. "We've raised three boys. Our last has only gone to school waking up in the light. The difference is profound and difficult to fully describe. His grades and school performance are much higher than his brothers. His athletics, mood, behavior, family dynamics, diet, socialization, health, time management, focus, are also improved.
“It's honestly been the single best improvement to my parenting experience,” said Dunham. “It is beyond me why all districts don't listen to the medical and academic experts and switch to healthy start times. There is no price tag you can put on this long list of proven benefits.”
Since its founding in 2011, Start School Later has been at the forefront of the effort to promote healthy school start times, and has worked with health and education experts to coordinate efforts to bring overdue attention to the teen sleep crisis. This year, the organization surpassed 150 volunteer-led chapters in the U.S., Brazil, and Japan, expanding Start School Later’s reach to encourage positive change in education policy, and provide support to parents, educators, and community members who want to boost adolescent health and success.
The newest local chapters of Start School Later, along with the increasing number of states considering later school start time policies, reflect a growing recognition of the importance of healthy school start times.
“It’s gratifying to see more and more state officials prioritizing teen health, safety, and well-being by enacting school policies that enable adequate sleep and its many benefits,” said Dr. Snider. “With the many challenges facing teens today, the engagement of Start School Later volunteers in educating their local officials and community members on teen sleep and the urgent need to start school later is more important than ever.”
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Start School Later Inc. is a coalition of health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and other concerned citizens dedicated to increasing public awareness about the relationship between sleep and school hours and to ensuring school start times compatible with health, safety, education, and equity. For more information about the work of Start School Later, visit www.StartSchoolLater.net, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.