TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Richard J. Codey and Senator Shirley K. Turner that would require the Department of Education to conduct a study on options and benefits of instituting later school start times in middle school and high school passed the Assembly today.
The bill, S-2484, would require the study to consider recent recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics on the establishment of later school start times in order to allow students more time to sleep. The AAP report found that lack of sleep in adolescents caused poor academic performance and posed a serious public health concern.
“Right now we have it backwards according to the research. The younger students need to be going to school earlier and the older students need to be going later,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex and Morris). “Students who are sleep-deprived can’t focus or perform well academically, and our goal is to help our youth achieve higher standards so they can be better prepared for life beyond high school. If we want them to do well, we need to recognize the challenges they face biologically and address their needs accordingly.”
According to the AAP report, doctors say that teenagers need a minimum of nine hours of sleep and that, biologically, it is difficult for teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m. and wake up prior to 8 a.m. Without sufficient sleep, their grades can suffer, they are more prone to physical health problems such as obesity, and they are more likely to suffer from depression and mental health issues. There is also a higher rate of driving accidents involving drowsy students, the report found.
Under the bill, the DOE study would include an assessment of the health, academic, and safety benefits associated with establishing later start times and would require a review of available literature and data on the experiences of school districts in the nation that have implemented later start times. It would also evaluate any potential negative impacts on school districts and families that may be associated with a later start time and consider strategies for addressing potential problems.
“Research shows that later start times lead to less daytime sleepiness, less tardiness, fewer attention difficulties, and better academic performance,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon and Mercer). “The goal of this bill is to help create an environment for our adolescents that is conducive to learning and which enhances their overall mental and physical health.”
Once the study is complete, the bill would direct the DOE to submit a report to the Governor and to the Legislature detailing its findings and recommendation on the advisability of establishing a pilot program to test later school start times in select interested middle schools and high schools throughout the State.
“The problem is greater than teenagers dozing at their desks. It is about their health and ability to learn, retain information, and succeed,” added Senator Codey. “Starting the school day at a time that is optimal for learning and for the health and safety of students would be a wise decision.”
More than 1,000 schools across the country have already pushed back start times and reviews of these districts have shown improvements in various measures.
The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 37-0 and the Assembly with a vote of 73-0. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.