New Jersey Dept of Ed Considers Later School Start Times

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

New Jersey has just finished hosting three public forums to decide whether state middle and high schools should be granted later start times. Last year, New Jersey's Department of Education agreed to consider the recommendation. The effort was led by New Jersey Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex), a former governor of the state.

Codey believes that the small number of people who attended the forums indicated that the proposal will have no problem passing. Codey became interested in the issue after the American Academy of Pediatrics made the recommendation that middle and high school classes begin no sooner than 8:30 a.m., writes Krithika Varagur of The Huffington Post.

Currently, about 85% of the state's schools start first classes earlier than 8:30. Just 17.7% of middle and high schools across the country follow the AAP suggestion.

Comments on the proposal can still be posted on the state Department of Education website and will be accepted until the close of May 20. Then the department will choose whether to begin pilot programs at schools that agree to starting classes later, commencing in the 2018-2019 academic year.

Only New Jersey and Maryland have legislation that addresses when schools should start. Terra Ziporyn Snider, executive director of the nonprofit Start School Later, said:

"Maryland thinks this is a public health issue, while New Jersey is working through its Department of Education."

Teenagers who are sleep-deprived are more likely to suffer from drug usage, depression, and poor academic performance, according to research.

Snider added that start times are not necessarily an education concern that requires a vote. She adds that this matter is a real health issue. Asking people for their opinion on later school start times is like asking people their impressions of asbestos, she quipped.

Scientific information shows that the circadian rhythms of teenagers change during adolescence. They experience what is known as "sleep phase delay." The result is that their falling asleep and waking times are about two hours later than those of younger children.

But critics say that just because later school start times are enacted does not mean kids are going to bed earlier. Some teens will just stay up later, found a study published in February.

One high school in Burlington County, New Jersey attempted to push its start time to 8:15 a.m. But teens who were on sports teams, who had jobs after school, or who had younger siblings for whom they were responsible were inconvenienced. Now the school's first class bell rings at 7:15 a.m.

Another factor is financing the endeavor. In Virginia and Connecticut, the cost to implement later starting times was estimated to be $5 million, which would be used to pay for additional school buses. Lower-income districts would have a difficult time finding this amount in their budgets.

But Codey believes that schedules in New Jersey schools could be changed at no cost to the schools.

"The information collected by the task force can inform school boards in determining school starting times," said Frank Belluscio, deputy executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association. "This information, however, has to be balanced with other factors, like athletic and after-school extracurricular activities … which vary from community to community."

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