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West Contra Costa debates starting school later as state rejects delayed start time bill

on September 20, 2017

State lawmakers snoozed on a bill that would delay school start times, but Richmond students, teachers and parents are waking up to join the conversation.

The state Assembly rejected a bill last week that could have mandated classes to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. But as state lawmakers debated that bill, the local West Contra Costa Unified School District asked itself whether or not a later start was the right move.

Teachers and students at Richmond High School say the extra time would improve attendance and alleviate some of the transportation challenges experienced by some kids. Their parents, though, say a later start time might interfere with work schedules and other morning responsibilities.

Before last week’s Assembly vote, the school board decided to delay its support for the bill until it had more information both from the community and experts.

Board Trustee Valerie Cuevas described the bill as “not very clear” during last week’s meeting. “I want to have some more conversation about: the nexus between the research and the practice,” she said

The bill could be brought back next year, and would only affect middle- and high-school schedules, which usually start earlier than elementary schools. Currently, all of the West Contra Costa high schools start before 8:30 a.m., the earliest being El Cerrito High School, which starts at 8:05 a.m.

The main opponents of the proposed law were the California Teachers Association and California School Boards Association, who argued that the state should not dictate the schedules that work best for specific communities.

English language development teacher Danielle Sinquefield said she and her students struggle with their 8:15 a.m. start time. “It slows us down,” she said of tardy students. “I have to stop, we have to make sure to get the attendance updated, and I have to catch them up to where we are.”

She also said some students have duties every morning that account for attendance problems. Richmond High School senior Itai Morales said she has no problem waking up early and finding a ride to school from friends or neighbors, but she has noticed that her peers are often responsible for their brothers and sisters in the morning.

“They have siblings and have to drop them off at 8:15 in order to get to school on time. The time management for them is hard,” she said.

Some Richmond parents, however, opposed the change and called it complicated. Celia Fuentes and Aida Iguera, both parents of 11th grade students at Richmond High School, said that a later start time would impact their commute.

Iguera — who will have her three children separately attending elementary, middle and high school next year — said her morning routine would be much harder if all her kids had to be at school at the same time.

“Even though it seems like 15 minutes might not make a difference, it does,” she said.

But those fifteen minutes spread out over the school year can amount to a real difference in a student excelling in class, according to Cal Walters, who teaches algebra and geometry at Richmond High School.

“It’s a positive move to reach kids where, when and how they need to be educated,” Walters said. “Every minute that we can be providing information is really beneficial to grounding, regrounding the education that we’re trying to provide them.”

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