Categories: NewsState

New Legislative Proposal Would Dial Back High School Start Times to 8:30 AM

A new New Jersey Assembly proposal, A 3816, would require high schools to begin the school day no earlier than 8:30 am. Assemblyman Craig Couglin and Senator Vin Gopal, new chair of the Senate Education Committee, say the bill “is inspired by concern over the mental health of children and teens after two years of upheaval because of COVID-19.” If the bill passes and Gov. Phil Murphy signs it, which he seems willing to do, the law would apply to all NJ public high schools, traditional and charter. 

Indeed, in 2017 a NJ study group on school start times concluded,

The scholarly research, including that by the [American Association of Pediatrics], is resolute in its identification of chronic adolescent sleep deprivation as a serious endangerment to adolescents’ health, safety, wellbeing, and academic performance. Moreover, the research strongly supports the many advantages and benefits of adequate sleep for adolescents. 

But,

Delaying school start times is fraught with obstacles and challenges, as it will undoubtedly affect not only middle schools and high schools, but elementary schools, as well. Chief among these obstacles and challenges are those associated with student transportation; after-school activities, including athletics, and childcare. The Study Group acknowledges these impediments to change; however, it also acknowledges that some school districts have chosen pathways that have enabled them to minimize such impediments. 

Coughlin said students are “better prepared to succeed in school” when they are well rested and eat nutritious meals.

Gopal said, “ensuring students are getting enough rest is an important first step toward addressing the alarming rise in student mental health issues we’re seeing in New Jersey.”

Currently only 17% of U.S. high schools start at 8:30 or later. The average start time is 8 am.

The evidence is murky. A study from the University of Minnesota found, according to the Hechinger Report, that while high school students who didn’t start until 8:30 got more sleep, there was no statistically significant change in their academic performance, and some parents reported that their kids simply stated up later to finish homework with no meaningful increase in sleep time. Other complications include, as the NJ study group noted, increased costs for transportation (unless you start K-8 students much earlier); complications with after-school clubs and athletic programs; and conflicts with after-school jobs and babysitting for younger siblings. 

Yet there seems to be a consensus that teenager’s sleep requirements are more important. This will mean big changes for some districts. For example, Lakewood High School students start at 7:00 am and finish up at 1:30; their current transportation budget is already $22 million (due to 30,000 private school students who go to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas). Asbury Park high school students start at 7:27 am and end at 2 pm. 

More from Hechinger:

“The findings from all of the research regarding the relationship between start time, sleep duration, and academic performance are not totally conclusive,” said Kyla Wahlstrom, a national expert of school start time research at the University of Minnesota who was not involved in the current study, via email. 

“That said, after 25 years of my looking at academic performance and start time, there is no question in my mind that greater sleep, meaning eight hours or more per night for teens, does in fact yield better academic performance,” Wahlstrom said. “This is because there is incontrovertible evidence that sleep enhances cognition and memory.”

Staff Writer

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