Parents Ask NJ Officials to Start School Later

By Michael Hill

Parents told the state study group for a later school start time there’s a better way than this.

“It breaks my heart to wake my own son every day who is deeply sleeping at 6 a.m. when I know that his brain is full of melatonin and is not ready to wake up,” said East Brunswick parent Karen Famiglietti.

Parents cited studies from the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and others that show sleep deprivation puts teens at a higher risk for car crashes and poor academic performance.

“Scientific data has been so overwhelming and compelling,” said East Brunswick parent Gina Bores.

Most New Jersey middle and high schools start before 8:30 in the morning. The academy recommends they start then or even later “to 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.”

“I have yet to find an alarm clock that will wake up my seventh grader and I drive her to school rather than have her use the bus so that she can get as much sleep as possible,” Bores said.

With both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics are in favor of a later school start time. One parent wonders if New Jersey policy and decision makers would be brave enough to do it.

“Because kids are still in the zone of sleep they’re being forced to wake up for school, they function in a state of jet lag for the entire day,” Famiglietti said.

“The tail is wagging the dog,” said Joshua Leinsdorf, a former member of the Princeton Regional school board.

Leinsdorf says he’s been giving this speech for 30 years.

“The only other stakeholders in favor of early opening are the athletes who need the school day to end early so they can have daylight in which to practice and play in the winter and the school bus operators and drivers. There are no valid educational reasons for early opening,” he said.

Ridgewood High School Principal Tom Gorman raised a number of logistical concerns about daycare, busing, after-school jobs and sports competition and what a later start time would mean for instruction time.

“We start currently at 7:45. So say we start at 8:30, is there a reduction in the school day now? Are we going to keep the same end time to avoid all the other issues I just brought up or do you extend it an hour later?” he asked.

The study group’s hearings are sparsely attended — it had zero speakers Monday in Camden County — but reports it’s received more than 400 emailed comments for a report to be written the end of June. It has one more hearing next Tuesday in Jersey City.