EDUCATION

Around 85 Percent of NJ Middle and High Schools Start Before Recommended Start Time

By Erin Delmore
Correspondent

No more pencils, no more books until  8:30 a.m.

That’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics says is the earliest time middle and high school students should start class. New Jersey’s Department of Education is backing up the movement with a study on the pros and cons of pushing school start times back.

Assemblyman Dan Benson sponsored the bill that was recently signed into law by Governor Christie.

“All the health studies show our students are overstressed, they’re overworked, they’re sleep deprived, especially our adolescents, and this is at a crucial development time for not only their brain but their behavior,” he said.

The CDC analyzed data from the 2011 to 2012 academic year. Around 85 percent of New Jersey’s middle and high schools started before the recommended time. Seven percent started before 7:30, 37 percent between 7:30 and 7:59 and 41 percent between 8 and 8:29. That’s in line with the national average.

“One of the earliest signs of puberty is a delay in the sleep cycles so that adolescents have a hard time falling asleep as early as they used to and so they still need to be asleep in the morning when many times they’re still actually in class,” said Anne Wheaton, Epidemiologist for the CDC.

The AAP says adolescents need eight and a half to nine and a half hours of sleep every night. Not getting it can lead to poor performance in school and health problems, like obesity and depression.

The research is strong, but school administrators say it comes down to what’s best for each individual district. Plus, support among parents, who may have to re-arrange their work schedules and child care routines.

“In Pemberton, in southern New Jersey, they actually made a change that the staff found beneficial to kids with regard to their attendance and how many kids made the honor roll but parent’s didn’t like the adjustment and they returned back to the old schedule. So some of the impediments; we have to deal with are transportation, potential transportation costs, family arrangements, people talk about athletics, especially when you have shorter daylight hours in the fall and spring and you might have multiple teams that need to use a facility it’s not just one team that can get in at a later start time, family patterns, co-curriclar activities, students who work,” said Executive Director for the New Jersey Association of School Administrators Richard Bozza.

But if schools start later, would kids just stay up later?

“Pretty much every study has found that kids will use that time to sleep,” said Wheaton. “They might not use the entire hour, for instance, for sleep, but they’ll use enough of it that it actually makes a difference.”

The Department of Education will use its findings to decide whether to launch a pilot program at one of the state’s middle or high schools. The Department of Education told NJTV News they’ve spoken with stakeholders and are considering how to conduct the study.