Changing schools’ start times is one more big change to education in Florida | Opinion

Amid the textbook bans and LGBTQ snubs in Florida schools, comes another transformative change passed by the Florida Legislature: It simply has to do with what time the school bell will ring.

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed House Bill 733, which mandates later start times for middle and high schools, a radical reset for students, parents, teachers and districts in Miami-Dade and across the state. Although the change has its critics, the law might not be a bad thing,

It requires public school districts and charter schools to adjust their current schedules to ensure that middle schools begin classes at or after 8 a.m., while high schools will start at or after 8:30 a.m., instead of the current 7:20 a.m.

It all goes into effect with the 2026-2027 school year, for it will take that long for districts to alter everything from school bus, cafeteria, student and faculty schedules.

The move has the support of The American Academy of Pediatrics, which has recommended later starting times so students get a sufficient amount of sleep. It recommends as 8.5 hours to 9.5 hours a night.

Lack of sleep can have serious consequences. High school students who don’t get enough sleep have higher risks of obesity, depression, drinking, drugs and performing poorly in school, according to studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The change is only 30 minutes, but it’s an impactful 30 minutes. In fact, it will even alter the county’s traffic patterns during morning and afternoon hours. That’s transformative.

But the radical change in school start times has some concerned that the cost of implementing it will be another unfunded mandate from Tallahassee.

“For students, an hour later school start time is psychologically better. I have been a proponent of this change for the older students, but I know this will be expensive to execute for the district,” former Miami-Dade School Board member Marta Perez, now an advocate for mental health and fitness for children and families, told the Editorial Board.

The Legislature should help districts pay for all the changes that will be necessary. “This can be an unfunded mandate. Tallahassee needs to help the districts.”

We agree.

Perez said the benefits of good sleep for students have long been overlooked, with many falsely believing that early starts to the school day enhance productivity. Research attached to the bill indicates otherwise. Adolescents’ sleep patterns are different from those of adults. Kids stay up later. It’s natural.

With an earlier start time, students are often forced to wake up well before their natural waking time, which leads to chronic sleep deprivation. By pushing back the start time, students will be able to get the recommended amount of sleep, which can lead to better academic performance and improved physical and mental health, the bill promises. Studies show that children and teenagers require more sleep than adults, and sleep deprivation can lead to a range of negative consequences, including poor academic performance, behavioral issues, health problems and mental health issues.

For some teens, the stress of knowing that they must be at their desks at 7:20 a.m. has led those old enough to drop out. And that’s a shame.

Teachers are also likely to see some benefits from the new start times in terms of their preparation and student attention. Teachers know that during that first period of the day, half their students are barely awake.

A later school start time had been considered by the Miami-Dade school district back in 2021. At that time, the district created a task force. The same should happen now to help ease the transition.

The bill signed by DeSantis wisely comes with preparation guidelines. It requires each district school board to educate its community about the positive impact of good sleep habits on student health and safety.

Again, who pays? Since it’s a Tallahassee mandate, the districts should not be stuck will all the costs.

On the flip side, some parents are concerned that the later start times will interfere with their work schedules and the time they drop off their children, while others worry about the impact on after-school activities, which will obviously be later and into nighttime in some cases.

School bus drivers have expressed concerns about significant changes to their schedules, which may increase the amount of time students spend on a school bus.

Logistics will be complicated, and everyone affected should be heard out. If a later school bell leads to improved academic performance and mental well-being, the effort will have been worth it.