Debate In British Parliament
School Start Times To Reorder
Joseph A. Buckhalt :
In Great Britain, citizens may bring an issue before Parliament if they can get 10,000 people to sign a petition. At that level of support, the appropriate ministry is required to respond. If a petition receives 100,000 signatures, the matter must be brought to the entire Parliament.
In fall 2018, Hannah Kidner learned about that provision in her political science class and decided to write a petition to have school start later. From her home in Dartmoor, she had to rise at 6:15 AM so her mother could drive her to a nearby town from which she took a bus to school in another town. Earlier that year, while writing a paper for a biology project on circadian rhythm changes in adolescents, she discovered that some districts in England, France, and the U.S. had changed to later start times.
She had no idea if people would sign her petition, so she was surprised when she checked the site a few months later and learned that many had, and so Parliament had responded and would hold a committee meeting to discuss it. She and her parents traveled to London to be present for the debate. One MP reviewed the research on adolescent sleep timing, and numerous questions were raised, including whether later start times for older students would affect childcare for younger children. In the end, it was recognized that no legal requirements were in place for school start times and that local districts had the authority to set them. Their conclusion was that Parliament trusted teachers to determine what was in the best interest of their students' education.
In the U.S., state and federal governments are heavily involved in shaping school policy about most matters, such as required curricula, transportation safety, and teacher qualifications. In California, a bill requiring that schools start no earlier than 8:30 AM has been introduced in the legislature for the past two years. It has a provision that rural schools may be exempted due to longer bus rides. Last year, the bill was passed, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it, arguing that start-time decisions were best left to local schools. Under this year's revised bill, high schools would be required to start at 8:30 AM or later, and middle schools at 8:00 AM or later. A three-year phase-in has been proposed. The bill will likely pass the legislature again this year and the new governor, Gavin Newsom, will have to determine its fate.
(Joseph A. Buckhalt, Ph.D., is a Wayne T. Smith Distinguished professor and the former director of the School Psychology Program at Auburn University).