Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Mila Jasey, Dan Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and John McKeon to study the merits of pushing back the start time for middle schools and high schools in New Jersey has been signed into law.
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 majority of adolescents in this country are not getting enough sleep. This can have serious consequences on their health and their grades," said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). "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:
1. consider the recent recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics on the establishment of later school start times;
2. include an assessment of the health, academic, and safety benefits associated with establishing later start times in middle schools and high schools;
3. 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
4. review all available literature and data on the experiences of school districts in the nation that have instituted later start times.
"The benefits of getting the recommended amount of sleep are not limited to academic performance. Adolescents who get good sleep are less likely to be overweight, suffer from depression and less likely to be involved in a car accident," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "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. Now research shows that changes brought on by puberty also play a role," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "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."
"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."
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.