A state edict ordering high schools not to start classes until after 8:30 a.m. could have a major ripple effect on everything from elementary start times and lunch periods to athletic programs throughout the Manteca Unified School District.
The mandate signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Gavin Newsom is based on the assumption high school students will get more sleep with a later school start and therefore be more attentive — and productive — in class. The law goes into effect in 2022.
Currently district high schools start at 7:30 a.m. with dismissal time varying but generally being right around 2:30 p.m.
“This is something we’re going to be drilling deep into in order to identify all of the impacts,” noted Deputy Superintendent Roger Goatcher.
At first glance it would seem that the impacts would simply be on high school start and end times.
But changing high school start times has an impact on when school lunches take place, when clubs can meet, and how sports programs from practices to games are scheduled. What the high schools end up doing has a ripple effect on elementary schools due to bus schedules and even the timing of lunch periods.
Currently most district elementary schools start at 9 a.m. Some campuses, such as Woodward School, have staggered starts for various grade levels such as 8:30 a.m. for 4th thru 8th graders and 8:40 a.m. for primary grades.
As it stands now, Manteca Unified is already complying with the state mandate regarding “later” start times for seventh and eighth graders that can be no earlier than 8 a.m. starting in 2022. The exception is Manteca Day School that starts 7th and 8th graders at 7:30 a.m.
Elementary start times are up in the air, however, due to the district busing almost 8 percent of its students.
There is now a 90-minute difference between high school start time and that for elementary schools. Depending on busing patterns that is likely to mean start times for kindergarten thru 8th grade will either need to be pushed forward or backward.
It may not take an entire 90-minute gap to make busing work for both elementary and high schools but if it did elementary start times would have to be pushed forward to 7:30 a.m. or backwards to 10:30 a.m.
Busing is a major concern for Manteca Unified even though only roughly 1,500 of the district’s 24,000 students ride one of 72 buses to and from school. There are 27 special needs routes and 18 regular school bus routes.
California school districts are mandated to provide transportation for special needs students but not for other students. The district choses to bus regular students that reside more than 1.25 miles from school if they are in kindergarten through the 8th grade and if they are 2.5 miles away from the nearest campus if they are in high school.
While the district gets some state reimbursement for mandated special needs student transportation they get none for other students. The cost of their transportation to and from school comes from the general fund that is used to pay for day-to-day classroom education and spending on support services.
The rationale behind the district policy is based on the fact there are still a substantial number of rural students that include households that would have difficulty transporting students to and from school. That would cause absenteeism rates to increase as well as cost the district money to pay for teachers and other related expenses. Schools get funding on a per student basis only when students attend classes. Teacher salaries and other expenses have to be paid regardless.
After school programs such as clubs and sports could be forced to explore a variety of options including before school practices or meetings. The legislation signed into law by the governor does not prevent districts from conducting “zero periods” — optional classes and such — before the start of school at 8:30 a.m. That could mean practices could start at 7 a.m.
The other option is simply starting practices later with a dismissal time of around 3:30 p.m. Given that facilities are shared by various sports programs as well as levels, the district would have to consider how late practices run. The bigger issue could be later dismissal times would increase the amount of time athletes would miss their last class periods more often to either travel to away games or even play at home. A number of sports in the fall and early spring have to contend with early darkness.
There are other school-related issues as well.
But the biggest impacts could easily be on families and community programs that support the schools or operate around dismissal times to serve youth.
Manteca Unified has a high number of “super commuters” that spend upwards of 1 to 2 hours one-way to get to work.
It is why the City of Manteca Parks and Recreation Department offers before school programs at seven elementary schools that start at 6:30 a.m. and one elementary school beginning at 7 a.m. until school starts at 9 a.m.
That means a number of students are getting up at 6 a.m. and then spending two and a half hours at a before school program where it is safe to say most of them aren’t probably sleeping.
If the district opts to push back elementary start times by even a half hour it could mean some elementary students will have been in a pre-school recreation program before the start of school.
“We have plenty of time to look at everything and determine the best course of action,” Goatcher said.
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