New bills take on start times, IEP translation and fake news

New bills take on start times, IEP translation and fake news

(Calif.) Middle and high schools will be prohibited from starting the regular school day before 8:30 a.m. under a bill at the center of a heated debate Wednesday during a Senate Education Committee hearing.

Committee members moved that bill–SB 328–as well as two others that would work to improve media literacy education and better allow non-English-speaking families to participate in developing their child’s individualized education plan.

Advocates on both sides of the issue of mandating later school times clashed over potential problems related to student health, practicality and local control.

“I understand that this is a delicate conversation, and I understand that there are valid logistical arguments on implementation, but the overriding concrete positive benefits to the health and welfare of the children outweighs those,” said Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, author of the bill. “Every district that has done this has seen a measurable increase in academic performance, a measurable decrease in car accidents caused by tired teenagers, a measurable increase in all of the benefits, and a decrease in all the things that we as a Legislature want to solve–here’s a way to do it.

Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that implementing later start times leads to improved academic success in nearly every subject and higher rates of school attendance.

A separate study from the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement found that high schools that start at 8:30 a.m. or later allow for more than 60 percent of students to get at least eight hours of sleep per school night. Teenagers who get less sleep often report experiencing symptoms of depression at higher rates, and are at a greater risk of substance abuse.

Opponents of the bill, including representatives from the California School Boards Association and the California Teachers Association, said that while the science is compelling and student wellbeing is important, the law would set a standard that may be logistically impossible to meet for some.

A lack of home-to-school transportation provided by the district could put a major burden on working and single-parent families who would still have to get to work at the times they do now, and many schools do not currently have the funds to handle additional transportation costs. A member from the CSBA stated that it would leave many children who either don’t live within walking distance from their school or who are too young to walk without a way to get to campus. Another concern was that it might require parents to drop their kids off at the same time they currently do, but to an empty school with no supervision.

Committee chair Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, said he had concerns relating to local control issues in taking the option away from local school boards to maintain an earlier start time, and noted it would be important moving forward to retain some flexibility for rural schools and others who may face hardships under a later start time.

A separate bill authored by Portantino would set a 30-day timeline for when Individualized Education Plan documents must be accurately translated into a parent’s native language after an IEP meeting in order to allow families to understand the services their child is receiving, and to ensure a student with disabilities is able to receive those services in a timely manner.

According to Portantino, translation services currently can take up to months at a time, leaving students without the educational support services they need to succeed. And when the documents do arrive, he said, they may be incorrectly translated. SB 354 would aim to quell some of that confusion.

“The IEP process can be very overwhelming and intimidating for someone who is not familiar with the process or terminology, especially if that person’s primary language is not English,” Portantino said. “Although verbal translators are made available to parents during IEP meetings, some terms in documents or processes may be lost in translation.”

A third bill–SB 203, authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara–would require the California Department of Education to identify best practices and recommendations for instruction on media literacy, internet safety and digital citizenship.

“There are currently no standards for teaching students about aspects of digital citizenship, such as cyber bullying, sexting, privacy or how to spot and critically analyze fake news,” Jackson said. “SB 203 will help our kids learn how to safely, responsibly, and effectively use the extraordinary media and technology resources available to them.”

Similar bills targeting media literacy have been moving through both the State Senate and Assembly as schools grapple with how to best help students analyze and evaluate information presented to them.