You thought your kids could sleep in? Broward schools to ask for exemption to new law

South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Lisa J. Huriash | September 5, 2023

Don’t turn the alarm clock off quite yet. Broward schools will ask state legislators for an exemption to a new Florida law that would move back start times for many schools by the 2026-2027 school year.

Florida’s bill, signed into law in May, allows “middle and high school students in Florida to achieve optimal levels of sleep, to improve their physical and mental health, safety, academic performance, and quality of life.”

That means by the 2026-2027 academic year, the instructional day for all public and charter middle schools must begin no earlier than 8 a.m., and no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for high schools.

The bill cited a 2014 policy statement on school start times for adolescents from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which states that research indicates that the average teenager “has difficulty falling asleep before 11 p.m. and is best suited to wake at 8:00 a.m. or later.”

High schools will experience the most significant changes. About 48% of Florida’s public high schools start school before 7:30 a.m., according to the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.

In Broward County, most high schools begin at 7:40 a.m., such as J.P. Taravella High in Coral Springs, Western High in Davie and Fort Lauderdale High. The district school with the earliest start time is Coconut Creek High at 6:50 a.m. Nova High already meets the guidelines with a 9:30 a.m. start time, which is the school that starts the latest.

But Broward district officials said they’ll be lobbying state officials in Tallahassee at the start of the next session to create a brand new bill to allow local school districts to determine their own start times instead. The district also has contracted lobbyists who will take up their cause.

It remains to be seen whether the Legislature would grant the district’s request.

The school district’s reasoning: school times are staggered around the county and scheduled around bus routes. “This would definitely increase transportation costs: It would mean more routes and more drivers,” said district spokesman John Sullivan. And already, the district has a shortage of bus drivers for the routes already on the books, he said.

The state law would force too many of the district’s 33 high schools and 38 middle schools to begin their day at the same time. And, he said, there hasn’t been demand from parents asking for the change.

A spokeswoman for Palm Beach County schools would only say the district “has not yet chosen an implementation date.”

Senate bill sponsor Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, and other supporters of the measure had touted the mandate as a way to help students get more sleep before the school day begins.

“This is one of those pieces of legislation where we understand the ‘why’ very well. Studies, medical science, has shown that this is what’s best. What we’re doing now is not what’s best for our kids. For the adolescents especially,” Burgess said during a May 4 Senate debate on the proposal.

His office declined to comment Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Education did not immediately respond for comment.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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