New law directs New Jersey to study later school start times as benefit to students

BY HANNAN ADELY The Record

A bill to study the benefits of later start times in middle and high schools was signed into law Monday by Governor Christie amid growing concern from health professionals that teens are getting too little sleep.

Under the law, the Department of Education is directed to review the impact of delaying school to 8:30 a.m. or later, as recommended last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and to report findings to the governor and Legislature.

The doctors’ group claims that later start times are more in line with teens’ biological sleep patterns and would be better for their grades, personal safety and health.

The study will weigh benefits, but also look at any potential problems if school started later. Some school leaders and parents have raised concerns that delays could interfere with extracurricular activities and family schedules.

“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,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood.

The average start time was 8 a.m. at middle and high schools in New Jersey in 2012, according to a report that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last week. In its report, the agency linked lack of sleep to health risks such as being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, and using drugs — as well as poor grades.

Beside Vainieri Huttle, the bill was sponsored by Mila Jasey, Dan Benson and John McKeon in the Assembly. In the Senate, Richard Codey and Shirley Turner were primary sponsors.

Governor Christie also signed a bill Monday allowing American Sign Language to fulfill the high school world language requirement.

The law will help hearing-impaired students meet their graduation requirements while also promoting a more inclusive society for people with hearing impairments, legislators said. An estimated 100,000 to 500,000 Americans use sign language, they added.

Vainieri Huttle, Jasey and Mary Pat Angelini were primary sponsors of the bill in the Assembly. Diane Allen, Teresa Ruiz and Turner were the bill’s main sponsors in the Senate.

Email: adely@northjersey.com