A bill moving through the Legislature would create a pilot program in which five New Jersey school districts would implement later start times for high schools.

Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex, a former governor, said the intent of the bill is begin implementing the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Our way of education our children in terms of what time they start their school days at is wrong, and it should be flipped.”

“Believe me, many, many parents called me about this to say: Yes, yes, yes. And the kids? Hundred percent,” Codey said.

The pilot program would last four years and assess the health, academic and safety benefits, as well as possible negative impacts such as transportation and afterschool activities such as athletics, clubs and other extracurricular programs.

Codey said the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a 2014 report that sleep deprivation is a critical problem among adolescents and that the start time for schools contributes to it. It recommends that high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later.

“Through studies, we see that high school students who go to school early – very early, like 7:15 very often in my districts – their first periods, they do not do well in, at all,” said Codey, who said it affects SAT scores, as well. “In addition to that, during the winter, there are multiple accidents with high school seniors driving to school.”

A 2015 law required the state Department of Education to study the options and benefits of instituting later start times in middle and high schools.

Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Middlesex, said that review found there were a sufficient number of schools already using a later start time for policy analysts to obtain information about the impacts, so he isn’t sure a pilot program is needed.

“By creating a pilot program, wouldn’t we just be delaying?” Thompson said to Codey. “I agree with what you’re doing. I support it. Just the question is: Can we get enough data from what was done there to get it in place sooner.”

Codey said he knows the questions that need to be asked and their answers but implied that change happens slowly and only when school leaders are prodded a bit.

“This pushes the ball further down the road, senator. That’s all,” Codey said. “To get them off their butts, administrators, and get it done. Simple as that.”

 

The Senate Education Committee voted 6-0 for the bill, S3160, sending it to the Senate floor.

Only one person raised concerns: Jackie Burke, assistant executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools. She said county vo-techs educate students from multiple sending districts and therefore have unique scheduling challenges, particularly for shared-time students.

“If a sending district starts later in the pilot, it would be difficult for a student to get their academic classes finished in their sending school before they go to the vocational school for that portion of their education,” Burke said. And if they finish their academic classes first, they could miss vocational ones.

But Burke said, as the mother of a 12-year-old that she struggles to get out of bed at 6:30 a.m., she understands the interest in the bill.