San Dieguito won’t change school start times this fall

Students in a classroom at Carmel Valley Middle School.
Students in a classroom at Carmel Valley Middle School.
(Miquel Jacobs)

Snooze buttons beware: The San Dieguito Union High School District will not change its bell schedules for the 2021-22 school year to comply with Senate Bill 328 which mandates a later start to the school day.

Per the bill signed into law in 2019, school start times for middle school must be no earlier than 8 a.m. and start times for high school must be no earlier than 8:30 a.m. SB 328 must be implemented by school districts in July 2022.

All SDUHSD middle schools are currently in compliance but this fall the high schools will revert to their pre-pandemic bell schedules: Canyon Crest Academy will start at 8 a.m., La Costa Canyon and Torrey Pines will start at 7:40 a.m. and San Dieguito Academy at 7:50 a.m.

The school board voted 3-1 in favor of the 2021-22 bell schedule on June 17 with Trustee Michael Allman opposed.

SDUHSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Bryan Marcus said there were a number of reasons why the district chose not to implement the bell schedule changes this year but the major one was to provide students with a sense of normalcy after an abnormal year.

“One of the things we heard from our community and our kids is that we have kids that haven’t been on campus for two years and what they remember about being on campus was the pre-pandemic start time,” Marcus said. “And what we wanted to do was get the kids back in school.”

Marcus said knowing that students may struggle in the transition back to in-person school, they also want to make sure there was enough daylight at the end of the day to run after- school tutoring to help mitigate learning loss as well as other extra-curriculars and supplemental programs.

There are also challenges with classified employee staffing with any bell schedule change.

Considering all of the factors in the difficulty of making the change, Allman questioned: “How the heck are we going to get this right next year?”

Marcus said the district will need to “hit the ground running” in the fall, involve all stakeholders, learn from neighboring school districts and present the board with an innovative plan that best serves all students. Marcus said the board would likely consider the new bell schedule for 2022-23 in October or November.

Student groups, community members and board members have questioned why the district is not making the change sooner rather than later—among them Interim Superintendent Lucile Lynch, a big believer in late start times. She said unfortunately at this point in the year, making any changes for 2021-22 would be extremely disruptive.

“This is probably a decision that should’ve been made last December,” Lynch said.

In his vote in opposition, Allman said he was “extremely disappointed” that this was the first time he was hearing about what the bell schedule would be like in the fall and that it was now too late to make any changes: “We should’ve been asked earlier,” he said.

Ethan Fitzgerald, the ASB president at San Dieguito High School Academy, has been one of the strongest advocates for making the switch to “sleep friendly start times” that put students’ mental health and wellbeing first.

Along with other ASB members, he has researched the myriad benefits of later start times including reduced risks of teen car accidents, improved academic performance, fewer mood changes, increased physical health and improved attendance.

“School start times during the pandemic were finally appropriate,” said Ethan of the later start times. “What would also be extremely disruptive in my view is if we were switching back to this earlier schedule that we had prior to COVID and then plan to go to the 8:30 a.m. time later when we could’ve had this easier transition now. To go back and forth and back and forth would also be extremely disruptive.”

Marcus acknowledged the advocacy of student leaders like Ethan and staff and board members have committed to listening to student voices as they shape the schedule for next year.

While school start times will not change, Marcus said students do have the choice, flexibility and access to take an unscheduled period and have a late start day. Unique to San Dieguito is an opportunity for students to take eight courses over the year—most other high schools offer only a six-period day but in San Dieguito a lot of students will opt to take an unscheduled period for multiple terms, he said. The schools do recommend six classes a year to balance their demands outside the school day.

This fall at Torrey Pines 187 students are taking an unscheduled first period class and 530 have opted for an unscheduled last period. At San Dieguito Academy 55 students picked an unscheduled first period and 175 an unscheduled afternoon. At LCC 45 kids want an unscheduled first period and 429 don’t want one at the end of the day.

At CCA, with over 2,400 students, 73 chose to have an unscheduled first period and 366 an unscheduled last period.

“Kids are telling us when they want to go to school, they would rather go to school in the morning but they want to have opportunities in the afternoon not to be scheduled,” Marcus said.

Coming out of pandemic, Marcus said they are seeing a trend across all SDUHSD high schools where kids are signing up for more classes. He said these are historically low numbers of unscheduled periods in the afternoons.

In her remarks, SDUHSD Vice President Melisse Mossy said she wanted students like Ethan to know that she hears their concerns and she knows this decision is not ideal: “I’m sad that we couldn’t have done it a year earlier,” she said.

She took some time to say that in SDUHSD’s competitive high school environments, no student should feel pressured to take seven or eight classes in a year.

“It’s very stressful on kids,” Mossy said. “If there’s ever a year to give yourself a little more grace I would say please, don’t push yourself beyond what you can really do.”