Cindy Botwinick is leading a petition drive to convince the Toms River School District to begin the school day later than 7:15 a.m. The mother of three has collected more than 500 signatures so far by going door-to-door and soliciting names online.

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"7:41, as compared to 7:15, is an enormous difference in our child's day and our family's day," Botwinick said, fueling her argument with studies proving later start times can improve grades, standardized test scores and attendance, and even decrease obesity, suicide and depression.

"The true impetus was when the American Academy of Pediatrics study came out in August," she said. The study recommended middle and high schools begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Botwinick acknowledges logistics such as busing, sports scheduling and child care could be difficult in a big district like Toms River, but points to a huge district like Hamilton in Mercer County, where a similar approach is working.

"They're able to start their start times at 7:50 for their high schools, 8:25 for the middles, and 8:45 for the elementary schools," she said.

Botwinick suggested the Toms River administration contact Hamilton officials, to find out how they are able to make it work. She said she has approached the Board of Education two times about switching to a later start time, and noted the Toms River District was already looking into its revamping transportation as it prepares to transition to a full-day kindergarten program.

In addition, she said state Sen. Richard Codey's (D-Livingston) proposed bill to study the benefits of later start times would be a perfect pilot program in Toms River. A number of New Jersey school districts have already made the change, according to Botwinick.

"The only schools that I could find that are still doing this to their children are in Ocean County: the Jackson schools, the Brick Township high schools, Toms River, Lacey, Manchester and Lakewood," she said. "Atlantic City, Newark, Passaic, Essex, almost everywhere else, they have pushed their starting times back (to) 7:45, 7:50. It's really just this pocket in Ocean County that's still doing this."

Tammy Millar, spokeswoman for the Toms River Regional Schools, said Superintendent David Healy would not comment on the issue until after a meeting on Dec. 9.