WEST ORANGE, NJ — Sessina Dani and Aarushi Bhatnagar, student liaisons to the West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE), presented an informational packet to the board on Monday that included details from a research review article on how school start times affects students’ quality of sleep, academics and other factors.
The article, entitled “School Start Times. Sleep, Behavioral, Health, and Academic Outcomes: a Review of the Literature,” reviews 38 studies that examine “the association between school start times, sleep, and other outcomes among adolescent students.” The student liaisons presented these findings in an effort to convince the board to push school start times by at least 15-to-30 minutes later.
“Youth in America suffer from a severe lack of sleep and sleep deprivation, and while adolescents need nine hours of sleep, only 8 percent get the recommended amount of sleep,” said Dani. “It’s even been pushed by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), who strongly suggest that students don’t start—especially middle school and high school students—before 8:30 a.m.; but 93 percent of high school students in the United States start school before 8:30 a.m.”
According to the report, insufficient sleep has been linked to poor mental health—including depression, depressive symptoms, and suicidal ideation—poor academic performance and increased rates of school violence, Dani noted.
She also mentioned that some studies have found that delaying school start times decreases chances of motor vehicle accidents among students. Dani cited a 2008 study conducted in a Kentucky county, where there was a 16.5 percent decrease in the rate of motor vehicle accidents among students between the ages of 17 and 18. The data for this study was collected over the course of two years following a one-hour delay in school start time, she said.
By presenting this report, Dani said she hopes it will provide a push for the board to adopt a change in school start times.
Bhatnagar shared what the delayed start times would look like with both the 15-minute delay and the 30-minute delay in the form of a table. For example, the current high start time of 7:30 a.m. would be modified to either 7:45 a.m. or 8 a.m. should the district agree to adopt this change.
In response to the student liaisons’ presentation, Acting Superintendent of Schools Eveny de Mendez said that a new committee headed by West Orange High School (WOHS) Principal Hayden Moore would “begin to explore the delayed school opening for the high school and its impact on the rest of the district.”
WOBOE President Ken Alper praised Dani and Bhatnagar for their scientific approach to considering delayed start times.
“You did a really phenomenal job,” said WOBOE member Mark Robertson, who added that there “there is overwhelming evidence that more sleep is better from a safety, health and performance viewpoint.”
“There is some new data that the teen circadian rhythm is different,” said Robertson. “It’s not just a matter of teens wanting to stay up later; their bodies, their circadian rhythm is different, such that they are more inclined to stay up later, so they would begin their sleep cycle later and would then require that their mornings would start later.”
With regard to the formation of this new committee, Robertson suggested that “a survey could be easily fielded” to parents in order to avoid any expenses. De Mendez commented that one of the functions of the committee would be to distribute such surveys.
“We were actually planning on sending it out to students,” Bhatnagar said about surveys on the subject. “So if possible, parents could also access that survey by looking over their children’s shoulders, and if there’s anything they’d like to add about delayed school timing and what they think, we can include a section in that survey.”
Robertson agreed that an initiative like this might work, but noted that child-parent interaction differs from family to family, and suggested that it might better to communicate a survey to parents through other channels like the PTA, the school principal or via Email.
WOBOE Vice President Sandra Mordecai said she looks forward to thoroughly reading the study presented by the student liaisons, but asked de Mendez to be mindful of costs when pushing the time forward.
“A few years ago, when we did change the times by about 10 minutes, we were able to save $700,000 in our budget, so please keep that in mind when you’re changing the time back,” said Mordecai, referencing when the district adjusted the high school day to begin and end 10 minutes earlier.
WOBOE member Cheryl Merklinger also expressed concern about the impact that delayed school times would have on school athletic schedules, especially for youth athletes in the elementary schools. She urged the committee and her fellow board members to consider this issue when discussing the possibility of adjusting the times.
“One of the things I would ask that you look at is the NJSIAA rules when it comes to when after-school athletics can begin,” she said. “That does have a domino effect on our younger sports programs; the later the high school ends, the later our younger athletes—so our 6 or 7 year olds who are already starting practice at 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m.—will now get bumped to possibly 8 p.m.”
In other news, de Mendez also provided an update regarding the progress of implementing Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) technologies on buses, which was last discussed at the Jan. 7 WOBOE meeting. After negotiations, de Mendez said the transportation technology contractor agreed to a $29,000 grant, and included that a $29,000 installation fee be taken off.
De Mendez also noted that Mayor Robert Parisi announced during last week’s Mayor’s Breakfast, hosted by the West Orange Chamber of Commerce, that the township would partner with the district to help with the installation of the GPS technologies. She said that a meeting would be held between the West Orange transportation department and the contracted transportation department to look at bus routes and the impact of delayed school openings to see if transportation would be feasible.
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The next WOBOE meeting will be held on Feb. 25 at 8 p.m.