As New Jersey high schools continue to rank top in the nation, legislators are hoping to encourage even better academic outcomes with more emphasis on student health. Given the connection between more sleep and improved academic performance, Assemblywomen Mila Jasey, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Carol Murphy have sponsored legislation to assess how pushing back high school start times to 8.30am could be beneficial. The bill was given final legislative passage by a 72-0-3 vote in the full Assembly Thursday.
The bill (A-4865) establishes a four-year pilot program to study the issues, benefits and options for implementing later start times across New Jersey high schools. To participate, school districts would submit an application to the Commissioner of Education. Five schools would then be selected so as to represent the northern, central and southern regions of the state as well as a combination of urban, suburban and rural areas.
“Teens are operating on too little sleep to the detriment of their physical, social, emotional and ultimately academic well-being,” said Jasey (D-Essex, Morris). “With later school start times, students could get a little more sleep giving them just the extra boost they need for success. It’s a strategy that has great potential to work in our largely diverse state and merits our attention.”
The primary goal of the bill will be to assess how later school start times function in the context of New Jersey, and to see its effect on reducing tardiness and absenteeism. While research has broadly articulated positive effects of a later start in the morning, this legislation would also serve to identify any negative implications of the policy before any pursuit of statewide implementation.
“Our school schedules should reflect the needs of our students,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “So often, our children are attending school on far less sleep than what is medically recommended. This pilot program will give us a deeper understanding of how a later start to the school day may impact students – especially in regards to academic performance. This legislation is supported by advocates and experts alike, including the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
“The purpose of school and education is to maximize human potential,” said Murphy (D-Burlington). “When students are not well rested they aren’t showing up to school in best mindset to learn. For that reason, it’s imperative we take on task of pinpointing feasible ways to better meet the needs of our teens. If changing high school start times by an hour makes a difference, it’s an avenue we definitely need to explore.”
The bill now goes to the Governor’s desk.