Defeat of bill for later school start times won’t deter sleep specialist

Rafael Pelayo
Rafael Pelayo

The medical evidence is clear — teens are suffering physical and mental health problems due to chronic sleep deprivation. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting classes at all middle and high schools at 8:30 a.m. or later.

“We’ve known for decades that teenagers are not getting enough sleep,” said RAFAEL PELAYO, a clinical professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences with the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. “Senate Bill 328 [which would prohibit schools from starting before that time] came out of presenting the strong evidence-based, peer-reviewed data to elected officials. Even the people opposed to the bill accept the science.”

Why did California Governor Jerry Brown reject the bill? The main objection of teachers, school boards and ultimately Brown centers on giving the local community control of individual school decisions.

“We’ve stepped into this ongoing battle between state control and local control of schools,” Pelayo said. “But I don’t consider this a political issue. This is a public health issue. Hundreds of schools have already changed and they see the same result — kids are healthier and perform better. This is a matter of honoring kid’s biology. It doesn’t work to just say they should go to bed earlier.”

Despite this legislative setback, Pelayo plans to keep volunteering. For years, he’s been giving talks about sleep at many local high schools and middle schools.

“About 300 school districts have already mandated a later school start time,” Pelayo said, adding that San Diego schools are planning to implement later start times by 2020. “If California had passed SB 328, it would have accelerated this process. Instead, we’ll have to do it piecemeal. And that’s too bad, since kids need sleep now.”

Read more in Scope, the blog of the School of Medicine.