Florida House bill proposes later start times for middle and high schools

Lawmakers cited research indicating that teens perform better academically when not sleep-deprived.
Largo High School freshman Ian Demilo navigates his predawn pickup in Clearwater in September 2022. State lawmakers have proposed mandating that high schools begin classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m., starting in 2026.
Largo High School freshman Ian Demilo navigates his predawn pickup in Clearwater in September 2022. State lawmakers have proposed mandating that high schools begin classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m., starting in 2026. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Feb. 10|Updated Feb. 10

Florida middle and high school students soon might get more sleep each morning if a state lawmaker gets his way.

State Rep. John Paul Temple, a Wildwood Republican who heads the Sumter County school district’s professional learning department, filed a bill Friday that would require later start times for most middle and high schools in the state.

House Bill 733 would mandate that middle schools begin classes no earlier than 8 a.m., and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m. It would be effective in July 2026, to give schools and families time to prepare.

The legislation, if approved and signed into law, would affect the daily schedules of thousands of families in Tampa Bay area public schools.

Temple filed the measure a day after the House Choice and Innovation subcommittee spent two hours hearing experts on sleep and school start times. Chairperson Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, opened the session by describing how important sleep is for the health and academics of adolescents and teens, noting “many teens just do not get enough of it.”

Delaying school start times for teens, Tuck said, is seen as an “effective countermeasure for chronic sleep loss.”

The issue has been the subject of much debate for years in school districts throughout the state.

Hillsborough County moved its high school start times to 8:30 a.m. in 2017, for example, with leaders citing studies linking sleep deprivation among teens to obesity and other problems.

Pinellas County officials explored the idea in 2019, but did not alter the times. High schools still start classes at 7:25 a.m. or earlier. After hiring two consultants and creating a task force, the district determined that it could not redesign its bus schedules to get closer to the preferred 8:30 a.m. start time.

With start times at 9:40 a.m. in Pinellas and 9:35 a.m. in Hillsborough, most middle schools in those two counties would not be affected by the legislation.

When the Pasco County School Board revamped bell schedules in 2022 to compensate for bus driver shortages, it also heard many parents suggest that elementary schools should start before middle and high schools, to allow teens more time for sleep. The district said it would be open to the idea in the future, but did not swap elementary and high school times.

Of Pasco’s 17 high schools, 10 start at 7:16 a.m. or earlier. Another five start between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Six of the district’s 17 middle schools start before 8 a.m.

Pasco board chairperson Megan Harding, a former elementary school teacher, said Friday that decisions to alter bell schedules are filled with both emotion and logistics. She noted that, when Pasco changed its bus schedules, the district was inundated with calls and complaints.

She anticipated that a change forced by the state Legislature would prompt a wave of concerns.

“I’ll be interested to see where this goes,” Harding said. “I guess they feel they need to take this away from local control. To me, this is a local issue.”

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Raegan Miller, a Pinellas County parent school activist, recalled the many factors that emerged the last time her district looked into this idea. While some parents argued on behalf of later times for middle and high schools, she said, others talked about the need for teens to play sports and hold down jobs after classes, and still have enough time to do their homework.

Families with elementary students, meanwhile, raised concerns about having the youngest children out waiting for buses before dawn.

“It’s complicated, is the bottom line,” Miller said.

If this legislation advances, she and others said, the interest and feedback among parents will be high, and passionate.

“It’s a big deal,” Harding said.

The bill has not yet been assigned to any committees, and does not have a Senate companion. Because it was the sole subject of the House subcommittee this week, though, it is expected to have some traction.

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