Education

Bill to Study Benefits of Later Start Time for Schools Signed into Law

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TRENTON, NJ - Legislation to study the merits of pushing back the start time for middle schools and high schools in NJ has been signed into law. The study was supported Assembly Democrats Mila Jasey, Dan Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and John McKeon. 

The study would look into what it would take to make the change including the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later to better align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty.

The West Orange school district created a three-tier start-time and end-time schedule to utilize busing efficiently. The day is structured to allow for athletics and after school activities as well as older siblings being available to care for younger ones. Currently, the high school has the earliest start time. However, studies have shown it's better for high schoolers to have a later start to the school day. If this new legislation becomes law, the district will have to restructure the elementary, middle and high school day to comply with the law.

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"The West Orange school district will comply with the later start-time initiative, should it become law," said Cynthia Cumming, spokesperson for West Orange public schools.

“It seems unfair to expect students to be alert and ready to learn early in the morning, when according to the experts; their brains are still in sleep mode,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “Given the report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, we owe it to our students to look into what it would take to implement this change in our schools and whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.”

“The majority of adolescents in this country are not getting enough sleep,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “This can have serious consequences on their health and their grades. Resetting the school day would not be easy or simple, but given what we now know about the effects of sleep deprivation on the adolescent brain, to not even consider it as a possibility does our students a disservice. This law is a good first step in determining whether changing the school start time makes sense for our students.”

The new law (S-2484/A-3845) directs the Department of Education to study the issues, benefits, and options for changing the start time for middle school and high school to a later time. The study would:

  • Consider the recent recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics on the establishment of later school start times;
  • Include an assessment of the health, academic, and safety benefits associated with establishing later start times in middle schools and high schools;
  • Evaluate any potential negative impacts on school districts and families that may be associated with a later start time and consider strategies for addressing potential problems; and
  • Review all available literature and data on the experiences of school districts in the nation that have instituted later start times.    

Under the law, the department would have to submit a report detailing the findings of the study to the governor and the legislature. The report would have to include a recommendation on the advisability of establishing a pilot program to test later school start times in select middle schools and high schools throughout the state that are interested in participating in the program.

“The benefits of getting the recommended amount of sleep are not limited to academic performance,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). Adolescents who get good sleep are less likely to be overweight, suffer from depression and less likely to be involved in a car accident. The health benefits alone are enough reason to weigh the pros and cons of delaying the school start time.”

“Sleep can already be a luxury for students juggling school, work, extracurricular activities and sports,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Now research shows that changes brought on by puberty also play a role. The impact of sleep deprivation on adolescents can be severe. If changing the school start time can help prevent serious health risks and enhance learning, then it is worth looking into.”

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