A handful of New Jersey high schools will push back their school day start times under a new pilot program administered by the state Department of Education.
Proponents of later start times argue that sleep deprivation makes high school students anxious, stressed, and less focused on classwork.
“Adolescents simply don’t go to sleep early, and they need more sleep than they’re getting,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, D-Essex, who sponsored legislation to create the pilot program. “We know that the incidence of accidents among students who are driving to school is up. And we also know that attentiveness is down and performance possibly as well.”
The state will ask for applications from districts that want to participate in the four-year pilot program, which could begin as early as this school year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting high school no earlier than 8:30 a.m., yet many still do.
“Often, your first-period class is a little more quiet, less participation. You can see [they’re] just not really awake yet,” said Sean Spiller, a high school science teacher in Wayne and a New Jersey Education Association vice president. “Once you get a little bit later in the day, many of those same kids in different classes are really much more involved and engaged.”
The pilot program has received widespread support, yet some parents are concerned about the unintended consequences of letting some school districts start later while others will begin at the same time.
Julie Borst, executive director of the group Save Our Schools New Jersey, wondered whether the disparate start times will complicate high school athletics schedules.
“Those kids who are participating in sports who are part of this pilot would still have to leave school at whatever time those games are happening, and so they’d have an even further truncated schedule,” Borst said.