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    New Jersey considers later start times for schools

    In this photo taken Nov. 23, 2015, a student leans on a table in the cafeteria during first period at Roosevelt High School in Seattle. More school districts around the U.S. are heeding the advice of scientists who have long said that pushing back school start times can improve student health or academic output. (Elaine Thompson/AP Photo)

    In this photo taken Nov. 23, 2015, a student leans on a table in the cafeteria during first period at Roosevelt High School in Seattle. More school districts around the U.S. are heeding the advice of scientists who have long said that pushing back school start times can improve student health or academic output. (Elaine Thompson/AP Photo)

    New Jersey’s Department of Education came down with recommendations this week on whether schools should delay start times. It found substantial research backing the benefits, given how sleep deprived teens are. But the report fell short of mandating schools make the switch, instead encouraging local districts to review the possibility.

    Only about one in ten schools in the state currently start at 8:30 a.m. or later, according to the new report. Parent, Lynne Fox, who used to teach in the New Jersey school system herself, said that’s one reason she switched her kids to a private school which starts later. She worries about the impact of the constant ‘get up at 6:30 a.m. and go’ mentality.

    “Watching my daughters in that typical treadmill of school where your’e waking up early, getting on that bus, running to school, hitting eight classes, doing homework and then trying to do extracurriculars, i was watching my daughers, my older one in particular, just her light for learning her light for life, just start dimming,” said Fox.

    Her kids now attend Solebury School in New Hope, Pa., which pushed back its start time from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. a year ago. Rick Tony, who oversees school studies at the school and led the change, describes the result in a way that seems completely incongruous with a place packed with hormonal teens racing to class.

    “This year I keep coming back to the word, peaceful,” Tony said.

    He’s still analyzing the results of the change, but anecdotally, Tony found the later start time relieved anxiety and stress for both students and teachers. Three quarters of students told him they were able to sleep later or have breakfast as a result. 

    The American Academy of Pediatrics is among the growing list of medical groups backing later start times, saying it better matches teen sleep cycles and helps prevent sleep deprivation.

    Tony acknowledged Solebury has several factors playing in its favor to making a successful switch. The school, comprised of grades 7 to 12, only has a couple hundred students. It’s also private, which allows for more flexibility. Even so, he said making change was a lot of work.

    “It took a years worth of a committee meeting and working through the many different pools of our time,” he said. “Because it [time] is a finite resource. There’s only so many hours in the day, so the challenge might be an administrative one, on a public school, trying to negotiate those pools of time.”

    Tony said when you start later, something has to give. That’s why Solebury also restructured its whole academic schedule. Students only have four, longer classes in a day as opposed to eight shorter ones. Bussing was also a challenge for some students, who still arrive early, but he said that now gives them time for breakfast.

    On the New Jersey side, transportation and other logistics were cited as major concerns in the new state Department of Education report. Most schools surveyed aren’t considering making their start time later. 

    “Changing the start times of most middle schools and high schools is also fraught with obstacles and challenges,” the report stated. “Primarily regarding transportation and after-school activities, including athletics and childcare.”

    The report didn’t go as far as telling schools to push back start times, but the department plans to further study schools who have already done it, and make that research available to schools who might be considering the move.

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