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 was signed into law today.
The law, S-2484, requires 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.
“According to the research, we have it backwards; the younger students should be going to school earlier and the older students later,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex and Morris). “Recognizing the biological challenges teenagers face is critical to addressing their needs and optimizing conditions for improving their academic performance. Insufficient sleep reduces a student’s ability to focus and do well in school, and our goal is to help New Jersey’s youth better compete with their peers beyond the high school years.”
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 law, 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.
“Later start times result in fewer attention difficulties, less tardiness and daytime sleepiness, and improved academic performance, according to published research,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon and Mercer). “The purpose of the study to be conducted under this law is to assess the impact of establishing later start times in New Jersey’s schools in an effort to enhance the overall mental and physical health as well as the academic performance of our students.”
Once the study is complete, the law directs 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.
“This is about students’ overall health and their ability to actively learn so they can better retain information and succeed in the long run,” added Senator Codey.
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 law takes effect immediately. It passed the Senate with a vote of 37-0 and the Assembly with a vote of 73-0.