Florida lawmakers consider later school start times

It’s a scenario that many families know all too well.

Early each morning, parents struggle to rouse sleepy teenagers, get them in the car or to the bus stop and then hope they are prepared for the school day.

But with some high-powered support, a Florida House panel Thursday backed a proposal that would set start times for high schools and middle schools that would be more in tune with teens’ natural rhythms.

The proposal (HB 733), sponsored by Rep. John Temple, R-Wildwood, would prevent public middle schools from starting before 8 a.m. and public high schools from starting before 8:30 a.m.

The change would have a major effect on high schools: A state report said 48 percent of public high schools started before 7:30 a.m., while another 19 percent started before 8 a.m. and another 9 percent started before 8:30 a.m.

Temple pointed to research that shows teens need eight to nine hours of sleep each night and have trouble winding down to fall asleep before 11 p.m. He said later start times for many students would improve academic performance.

"I think about the priorities. What is the focus? As an educator, what are we there to do? And it’s the academics, it’s the training and getting them ready to be productive citizens. And what is the best way to do that to prepare them for a lifelong success?" Temple, director of professional learning and accountability for the Sumter County School Board, said. "And adjusting that start time would definitely have a positive impact."

But Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, raised questions about another issue that many families also know too well: how later start times would affect parents who need to get their children to school before going to work. She said resolving transportation issues would be crucial for later school start times.

"Transportation is a major issue that working families have to deal with. … It is something that is going to potentially hurt our parents if we’re not able to get it right," Nixon, who has teenage children, said.

Proposals to increase start times got a boost this week when House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, endorsed the idea during a speech to open the legislative session.

"Quality sleep is also critical to children's learning and mental health, so we will pursue appropriate school start times as a zero-cost way to improve both academic scores and mental well-being," Renner said in prepared remarks.

The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics also is backing the proposal and praised Renner for highlighting the issue.

""By recognizing the critical importance of sufficient sleep for academic success, health, and safety, he is taking significant steps towards improving the lives of our children and adolescents," Thresia Gambon, a physician and president of the pediatrics group, said in a prepared statement.

Temple’s bill would give school districts until July 1, 2026, to carry out later start times. Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, has filed an identical bill (SB 1112) in the Senate.