N.J. lawmakers propose to start school later for teens

Students at Cherry Hill High School East staged a sit-in Monday morning in support of teacher Timothy Locke.

File photo: A school bus passes by Cherry Hill High School East in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Lawmakers in New Jersey have proposed a later start time for high school students, in an effort, they said, that would improve mental health amongst teenagers.

General Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Sen. Vin Gopal have introduced legislation in their respective houses that would require some high schools that receive state aid to begin regular instruction no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

The proposal comes after the New Jersey Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, or NJAAP, released a study that suggested many teens have a tough time falling asleep before 11 p.m and waking up before 8 a.m., due to their circadian rhythm.

“Sleep is fundamental to students’ mental and physical well-being,” Gopal said. “Ensuring students are getting enough rest is an important first step toward addressing the alarming rise in student mental health issues we’re seeing in New Jersey.”

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Some students said they are on board with the change.

“If school started at 8:30, or even later than that, it would be very beneficial. Not just mentally, but I feel like you could get your body more prepared to be around that many people for that many hours,” said Ta’Janae Pender, a senior at Steinert High School in Hamilton Township.

Pender said her school currently begins at 7:50 a.m., which means students like her who take the bus have to be up around 6 a.m.

And some parents are also on board with later start times.

Tieshau Middlebrooks’s daughter attends high school in Burlington. She is also a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

“The kids do have a lot on their plate. They want to be a part of things. They want to stay out of trouble. And I think the time does matter and mental health matters,” Middlebrooks said. “Because I know there’s a lot of people that are very overwhelmed, adults as well as students.”

Students said oftentimes, homework and extracurricular activities keep them up late, especially if they have a part-time job or take advanced placement classes.

“After school, I work until 10 o’clock,” said Samual Darby, a senior at Hamilton High School East in West Trenton, who also works at a local theater. “I mostly do my (homework) in the mornings or fit it in between classes and during my lunch periods.”

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The conversation over school start times has recently become a national trend, including in Pennsylvania, where hundreds of “late start initiatives” are already underway.

A formal outline of the provisions of the bill is not currently listed on the legislature’s website.

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