School, city leaders worry state bill could create traffic, safety problems | News | Palo Alto Online |


School, city leaders worry state bill could create traffic, safety problems

Proposal would mandate secondary schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

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UPDATE: Senate Bill 328 failed on the Assembly floor on Friday, Sept. 15, with 26 votes in favor, 30 against and 23 no votes recorded. State Assemblyman Marc Berman, who represents Palo Alto, voted in support. The author of the bill, state Sen. Anthony Portantino, said he would bring the bill back in January.

A state bill that would require all California secondary schools to start the day no earlier than 8:30 a.m. has gathered a mix of support and opposition in Palo Alto, a community with as much heightened concern about the connection between sleep and youth well-being as it has about school-commute safety.

Senate Bill 328, which was introduced by State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), is up for a vote on the Assembly floor this week. It passed the Senate in May with 25 votes in favor and 13 against. If the Assembly supports the bill, it would next go to the governor's desk.

In Palo Alto, the bill would have the most drastic effects on Jordan and Terman middle schools, which currently start the day at 8:10 a.m. JLS Middle School and Palo Alto High School start at 8:15 a.m. and Gunn High School begins at 8:25 a.m. The bill would not affect the high schools' optional early morning zero period, which begins at 7:10 a.m. at Paly and 7:20 a.m. at Gunn.

While many in the community endorse the intent of Senate Bill 328 — to allow teenagers to get more sleep to improve their physical and mental health — they argue that the impact on traffic as well as pedestrians' and bicyclists' safety in a commute-heavy city will ultimately be more detrimental.

The legislation is based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that 8:30 a.m. is the optimal school-start time to support teenagers' physical and mental well-being. These same recommendations drove the Palo Alto school district to eliminate academic classes during zero period at Gunn in 2015. Both high schools shifted to later overall start times several years ago.

Research shows that adolescents who don't get enough sleep often experience physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, Stanford University School of Medicine and California State PTA, among other education and health organizations, support the proposed legislation.

The California Teachers Association and California School Boards Association, however, have come out against the legislation. In a statement, the school-board association said that school start times "should remain a matter of local decision making." It opposes the bill unless it's amended.

Locally, neither the Palo Alto school district's parent-teacher association, teachers union nor school board have taken a formal position.

Some school leaders, however, have expressed individual support for the bill.

School board Vice President Ken Dauber, who was a vocal supporter for eliminating academic classes during zero period, said that "getting students more sleep is probably the single biggest thing we could do to improve their well-being, their academic performance, their overall health."

Paly Principal Kim Diorio told the Weekly that the research is solid on adolescent sleep and that the importance of that outweighs any traffic problems.

"It's so clear when you go into a class at 8:15 in the morning ... the energy level of the students and their affect. We have kids falling asleep," she said. "I just think they're going to be in a better position to learn if you start a little bit later."

She said the greatest impact at the schools would be on athletics and extracurriculars at the end of the day. A bell schedule committee at Paly is already considering a later start time but is waiting to see what happens with the legislation before proceeding. She said a survey indicated strong student and parent support for a later start time at Paly. Fewer staff members are in favor, however, given it could make commutes more difficult for those who don't live in or near Palo Alto, Diorio said.

Gunn Principal Kathie Laurence has not taken a position on the bill but voiced concern about how after-school activities could be affected.

Superintendent Max McGee supports the move toward later start times, but said he opposes the bill given it would take away local control and did not study the impact on traffic.

The city of Palo Alto has also expressed opposition to the bill. In an Aug. 18 letter to Portantino, Mayor Greg Scharff requested that SB328 become a two-year bill — to return in 2018 — to allow more time to consider implications for traffic.

Scharff also proposed an amendment that would allow local school boards to request a waiver "if a school district demonstrates that significant impacts to school-commute safety and congestion will result." (The bill, as proposed, does offer waivers to rural school districts to delay implementation.)

Palo Alto's peak commute time starts at 8:30 a.m., Scharff wrote, and the city is concerned that the bill would cause the large numbers of students who bike and walk to school "to compete with an increased level of auto traffic.

"This additional traffic creates a safety issue; it also creates traffic delays. These delays will require students to rise earlier to get to school on time — defeating the very goal of this bill," Scharff wrote.

School board President Terry Godfrey also wrote as an individual to the Assembly in August, requesting time for more analysis on the bill's impact on school-commute safety. She and McGee said they support the city's proposed amendment.

In an interview, Godfrey noted the work that has been done in Palo Alto to move to later start times to improve student well-being, including a sleep study she oversaw as PTA president in 2010. She hopes the bill can be revised with considerations about traffic.

Penny Ellson, who led Palo Alto's Safe Routes to School group for many years, also supports the city's amendment. She said she agrees with the research on adolescent sleep but worries about already exacerbated rush-hour traffic in the neighborhoods near Palo Alto's middle and high schools and the effect the bill could have on start times that have been carefully staggered to minimize congestion. She speculated that parents who have to get to work would still drop their children off earlier, minimizing the benefits of the bill.

State Assemblyman Marc Berman, who represents Palo Alto, told the Weekly on Thursday morning that he had not yet decided how he would vote on the bill. His office inquired of Portantino's whether traffic studies had been conducted, but Berman said he is not aware that any were.

"In an ideal world, the author would have taken more time and would have done more research on the traffic impact," Berman said.

The evidence for the link between sleep and teenage mental health, as well as the support of local medical institutions, is, however, "persuasive."

"Youth mental health is a critically important issue to me and is something that I'll be thinking of when I figure out whether or not I'm going to vote yes," Berman said.

If the Assembly does not vote on the bill by this Friday, Sept. 15, it will automatically become a two-year bill and can be proposed again in 2018.

If approved, the bill would take effect in July 2020.


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17 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 15, 2017 at 8:05 am

The start time for school is a local issue. The state and for that matter should not dictate school start times.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2017 at 8:25 am

School times dictate commute times and when school is not in session commutes are much easier. Parents who drop kids off on the way to work will probably still need to get to work at the same time. The staggered start times seem to make it easier for those who bike or walk but not for someone who has to drop two kids off in different schools.

I think there will still be a need for playground supervision in elementary schools and access to secondary schools before 8.00 am.

When the high schools changed to later start times, most kids had to get out of bed at about the same time as before because the commute to school took longer since they were passing schools that were experiencing their rush commute times too.

Nice idea in theory. The practicality may be much harder for those who need more sleep to get more sleep.

2 people like this
Posted by Pam
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 15, 2017 at 11:36 am

Pam is a registered user.

Palo Alto created and maintained the traffic congestion challenge with their aggressive refusal to allow the southern approach (Oregan/Embarcadero) to the Dumbarton Bridge. If you want to eliminate the vast majority of through traffic in Palo Alto, the southern approach to the Dumbarton Bridge must be built.
We have the engineering expertise and corporations have the social responsibility to provide funding. Palo Alto can not longer hide behind ecology concerns when it's really about the airport and golf course. We can protect the wetlands and provide safe routes for children.

18 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 15, 2017 at 12:11 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ Pam - We'll build the southern approach to the Dumbarton Bridge as soon as the WIllow Expressway is complete, ok?

45 people like this
Posted by from Canada
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 15, 2017 at 12:44 pm

I grew up in Canada. The all start around 9 am. All schools... all cities... all boards. It's nuts school starts so early here. Because of 9 am start, it allowed extracurricular clubs and activities to meet before school. Band practice? Before school started. Sports teams? Before school started. Library can open up early and do homework club in the mornings. People who need to drop off children at 8 am can do so. Given the crazy work culture in the Bay area... parents likely want early drop offs so they can get to work right after drop offs. Late start times are not necessarily a bad thing.

But then again... there is universal single payer health care up in Canada... and a sane person for the leader who doesn't act like a clown.

Sometimes the American way is not always the best way. Metric versus imperial system is an indicator of how USA can't embrace the new and better system while the entire world went on to use the metric system that makes complete logical sense.

Listen folks who complain about traffic. Working leaving for work at 8am should NOT be the primary driving force in making the kids get to school to study at 8am. 9am start would allow more "fun" or "physical" activities to happen at 8 am.. and then the kiddos can hunker down and do the academic stuff at 9am.

And while you consider being sane and joining the rest of the world.. may want to consider using the metric system as well. At least TEACH it to our kids so they can be part of the rest of the world when they graduate.

Like this comment
Posted by Pam
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 15, 2017 at 2:17 pm

Pam is a registered user.

FYI - The original northern approach is Marsh Road. The original southern and northern approaches where designed to limit traffic on University Avenue and Willow Road.

6 people like this
Posted by Steve Dabrowski
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 15, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Better keep our eyes on this one too! Not about education, but will make it possible for developers to call the shots with impunity-bet Marc Berman is voting for this bad law.

Senate Bill 35, from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, seeks to streamline the approval process for new housing by eliminating environmental and planning reviews for some projects.

State law requires California cities to set aside land under local zoning regulations for housing of all income levels, from rooms for the homeless to luxury high-rises. Wiener argues that, too often, local elected officials cave to neighborhood pressure to kill or water down housing proposals, and as a result, cities have not built enough housing to keep pace with population increases.

Under his bill, developers in cities that aren’t on track to meet their state housing requirements will be allowed to bypass local government review. Local elected officials will retain decision-making control in cities that are on track to meet their goals.

Read more here: Web Link

12 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 15, 2017 at 6:36 pm

@Steve, thanks for that important warning about the implications.

Two words: School buses.

Fix the shuttle timing to transport the kids and free up the parents and reduce neighborhood encroachment. We're already paying for the shuttle.

PA doesn't need much help re congestion around schools. The ARB/Planning Dept is wctively considering a proposal NOW to dramatically reduce parking for the Walter Hays school and the Community Center to accommodate the expanded Children's Zoo at Middlefield and Embarcadero -- already one of the most congested feeder routes to/from 101 and Stanford.

Walter Hays has 40 staff and 580 students whose parents already struggle to find nearby parking. We don't need more neighborhood encroachment and blocked drives! (Write/call amy, since most of the "stakeholders" won't be able to attend the 8:30AM ARB review on 9/21).

Jordan has 1300 students. Traffic already backs up to and INTO Oregon thanks in part to the reconfigured lights and bike lane.

PLEASE stop making it worse for those of living near schools and;or trying to get to them!

4 people like this
Posted by Numbers Gal
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 15, 2017 at 8:30 pm

Minor corrections - Hays has 384 students (not 580) and Jordan has 1,115 (not 1,300). Both are down from last year, and Hays has been going down for a few years. These were in the enrollment report presented at the last school board meeting.

Like this comment
Posted by Smoke grass before class
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2017 at 8:58 pm

Working parents will need to dump the kids at or near school early. The children will then have time to get abducted, do drugs or both. It appears that all of the really smart folks became state legislators - NOT.

2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 15, 2017 at 10:31 pm

"The start time for school is a local issue. The state and for that matter should not dictate school start times."

I agree. But after Sacramento took over responsibility for funding the schools after Prop 13 was implemented, it took ever greater control over them.

It's the Golden Rule: Who has the gold, rules.

Conservatives used to talk up local control. But P13's money allure trumped, and still trumps, all bedrock conservative principles. That Gold Rules rule is bedrockier than anything else.

4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 15, 2017 at 10:58 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Numbers Gal, thanks for the corrections re the enrollment figures.

I hope the city can coordinate the shuttle times with the school schedules and/or the city and PAUSD can resurrect the school buses, not make it worse by eliminating parking and pushing all those cars into the neighborhoods.

7 people like this
Posted by Sanity
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2017 at 6:23 am

I am surprised the State has gotten this right. When the locals failed to address what is in the obvious interest of students.

Local solutions weren't working- just reading all the comments makes it clear why.

1 person likes this
Posted by Secondary should start later and elementary earlier
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2017 at 8:04 am

Secondary should start later and elementary earlier is a registered user.

Walter hays currently starts school at 8:25 and Fairmeadow at 8:30 as two examples. They could start closer to 8 and the middle and high school students at 8::30. One issue is the VTP students, the bus schedule needs to work for the drop off at various schools.

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