HACKENSACK, NJ - Students at some New Jersey high schools may soon be able to hit the snooze alarm a few more times each morning before heading off to hit the books.

A bill that would authorize the state Department of Education to create a four-year pilot program to study whether later start times should be implemented at New Jersey high schools was approved last week by the state legislature and is awaiting a signature by Gov. Phil Murphy.

The measure - which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex, Morris), Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Burlington) - will assess if pushing back the bell time to 8:30 a.m. could benefit the academic performance and overall well-being of students. 

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It also seeks to identify potential negative impacts, particularly to transportation and extracurricular activities.

“The purpose of school and education is to maximize human potential,” said Murphy. “When students are not well rested they aren’t showing up to school in best mindset to learn. For that reason, it’s imperative we take on task of pinpointing feasible ways to better meet the needs of our teens. If changing high school start times by an hour makes a difference, it’s an avenue we definitely need to explore.”

Jasey said, “Teens are operating on too little sleep to the detriment of their physical, social, emotional and ultimately academic well-being. With later school start times, students could get a little more sleep giving them just the extra boost they need for success. It’s a strategy that has great potential to work in our largely diverse state and merits our attention.”

The pilot program is the next step in the state’s exploration of whether to delay school start times for middle and high schools. 

Officials began looking into it in 2015, shortly after the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended pushing back when school begins to better align with the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents.

That year, lawmakers passed a bill ordering the state Department of Education (DOE) to study the benefits and drawbacks of starting class no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

At the conclusion of its study, the DOE was required to make a recommendation on whether the state should establish a pilot program to test later start times in select schools throughout the state.

If Murphy signs A-4865/S-3160 into law, the DOE would be in charge of the pilot program and develop an application process for school districts interested in participating.

"The bill is written for the law to go into effect immediately. Once signed, the Department of Education would need to begin their own process to develop an application process for school districts. The Department would likely need to conduct outreach as well to ensure all applicable school districts are aware of the pilot program so that they can apply," said Katie Wertheimer, Huttle's Director of Communications.

Altogether, five schools from the northern, central and southern regions of the state would be selected, a group that must include urban, rural and suburban areas, according to the bill.

At the conclusion of the program, the state Education Commissioner will prepare a report that will include:

  • The number of students who participated
  • The impact the program has had on reducing tardiness and absenteeism
  • An assessment of the health, academic, and safety benefits 
  • An evaluation of any potential negative impacts on school districts and families 
  • A recommendation on the adoption of later school start times for all high school students

Huttle said, “Our school schedules should reflect the needs of our students. So often, our children are attending school on far less sleep than what is medically recommended. This pilot program will give us a deeper understanding of how a later start to the school day may impact students – especially in regards to academic performance. This legislation is supported by advocates and experts alike, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

Key findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics

  • In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommendation that middle and high schools start class no earlier than 8:30 a.m. because adolescents have "unique sleep rhythms" that make it harder for them to go to sleep and wake up than other people. 
  • Most teens can't easily fall asleep until about 11 p.m. and their brains stay in sleep mode until at least 8 a.m.
  • Teenagers need about 9.5 hours of sleep each night to function best but most don't get that. 
  • About 15 percent of U.S. high schools start at 8:30 a.m. and about 40 percent begin before 8 a.m. Most middle schools start at 8 a.m
  • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep deprivation doesn't just make teenagers more cranky at home and restless at school. A lack of sleep in teenagers is associated with risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking and using drugs, and can also lead to overeating and symptoms of depression.