Tenafly Committee Investigates Later HS Start Time

By Michael Hill

Every school morning, millions of teens struggle to get out of bed, yawning and yearning for more sleep.

Dr. Kristin Fless of the Saint Barnabas Sleep Disorder Center says that’s natural for teens who need nine hours of sleep.

“There’s actually a lot to support that teenagers have a change in their circadian rhythm as they get older so they go to bed later. It’s just sort of a natural change in their body clocks, they wake up later,” Dr. Fless said.

Across the country that presents a problem when school starts at 7:30 or so in the morning. Tenafly’s Later Start Committee has been meeting and the district is among those considering changing its high school start time to 8:30 a.m. so sleepy kids can rest longer and be more focused and attentive in class for at least the first couple of classes.

Parents are mixed about it.

“I feel like the school time should remain the same. For the kids to have more sleep,  maybe going to sleep a little bit earlier would help,” mom Jackie Feit said.

When told more sleep helps with comprehension parent Koby Abergel said, “That doesn’t happen. My son can go at 8 a.m. and play basketball early in the morning. They do wake up early and I think they all should start later.”

Sen. and former Gov. Richard Codey’s bill for the state to study the idea and to set up pilot programs won Senate approval in December. The Assembly takes it up this summer.

“Kids at that time in the morning when they get to school they’re sleeping, they’re late, tardy, whatever and nothing gets done. It’s shown that the first two classes are the worst classes and when it was switched in Minnesota all of a sudden their first two classes they got better grades, better GPAs,” Codey said.

“Occasionally we’ll get children in here who they think will have learning disabilities and it’s due to a sleep disorder,” Dr. Fless said.

Dr. Fless recommends teens turn off their electronic devices two hours before bedtime.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the school day starts at 8:30 or later. The idea comes with many challenges, such as teens who rely on working parents to drop them off at school and getting athletes to sporting events if other schools don’t start their day later.

The Later Start Committee is fine-tuning a survey to give to the high schoolers to measure their stress level and what they think of the current start of school time verses changing it to a later time. The committee is also reviewing a plan to change schedules during the day so that if it does go to a later start in the morning it won’t end much later than it does now.