By: Rafael Pelayo, MD
Why are you reading about Florida in a California Sleep Society newsletter? Florida is considering delaying school start times statewide like we have in our State! The California Sleep Society’s efforts in our state helped pass the first state law in the nation to protect adolescent sleep health by delaying the start of school time for most adolescents attending public schools. Senate Bill 328, which was sponsored by State Senator Anthony Portantino, failed the first two times it was introduced including being vetoed by then Governor Brown after having passed the entire legislative process. A revised version of that bill was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019 and went in effect just this summer after providing a three-year implementation period. Now, Florida may be on a similar path.
Recently, I was invited to speak about adolescent sleep health before the Florida House of Representatives. This invitation was coordinated with the National Sleep Foundation to appear before Florida House of Representatives/ Choice & Innovation Subcommittee on Thursday February 9, 2023. Other speakers were my friends and colleagues, John Lopos, CEO of the NSF, and the great Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom, who has done a lot of the pioneering research on the outcomes of delaying school start times. I have testified several times in the past in Sacramento during the legislative effort to make SB 328 a law. Those legislative hearings in Sacramento were very tense for me because we were given a tight 90 seconds to two minutes to explain the science behind adolescent sleep and circadian health. On the contrary for the presentations in Florida, Dr. Wahlstrom and I were given 15-20 minutes each to speak. We had decided in advance that I would present first on the biology of sleep and she would focus on the outcome data of delaying school start times. We were both peppered with questions after our respective presentations. Some of the questions were unexpected by me, including one on the role of hormone blockers in sleep. I did the best that I could to come up with answers on the fly being conscious of the setting I was in but not knowing the background of the individual state representatives asking the questions. You can see the entire recording of the hearing here: https://thefloridachannel.org/videos/2-9-23-house-choice-innovation-subcommittee/
I speak after John Lopos presentation introducing the NSF at about the seven and one-half minute mark. Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom follows. She received several challenging questions on the financial costs of implementing a state-wide change in school start times and impacts on child care.
After the presentation Kyla, John, and I received messages from several other friends and colleagues who observed the presentations in real time. Overall, we thought the presentations were well received, but did not know what to expect next or how the information was going to be used. We seemed to connect most with the election officials when we discussed the mental health impact of inadequate sleep. Several other times, we have reviewed the same information with other groups that seem to fall on deaf ears. To our surprise, the very next day a bill was introduced to delay school start times across the State! We did not see this coming. I received a text message from Dr. Terra Ziporyn Snider of Start School Later with the following news story link: https://www.tampabay.com/news/education/2023/02/10/florida-house-bill-proposes-later-start-times-middle-high-schools/. It is fair to say we were shocked by the quick introduction just one day after our presentations.
Now, the heavy lifting has to be done to help make this bill a law. I learned from my California experience that politics can be more difficult than science. Let’s celebrate this important first step and pledge to help Florida provide healthier sleep to its adolescents.