8:30 a.m. start for NJ high schoolers? It could happen by 2024
Citing data from multiple studies, state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, and Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, are proposing a measure to make start times at New Jersey high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m. beginning in the 2024-25 academic year.
Coughlin said at a time in their lives when teenagers want to put their best foot forward for college applications, a 7:30 calculus class, for instance, does them no favors.
"Biological rhythms naturally induce teenagers to go to bed later, so when first period starts too early, it puts more pressure on them and on their sleep, and it impacts their sleep quality," he said.
According to the Speaker, a study in Sleep Health Journal, sponsored by the National Sleep Foundation, found that teens who start school before 8:30 are at heightened risk for experiencing depression and anxiety.
Healthy sleep patterns make for healthy kids, Coughlin said — even if they remain busy kids.
"We also encourage high schoolers to participate in extracurricular activities, get part-time jobs, and live full social lives, so it's common that they often don't get to bed until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. or later," he said.
Similar policies have been proposed in places like Philadelphia, according to Coughlin, and come on the heels of two years of COVID-caused learning shifts, when many students may have simply opened their eyes, gotten out of bed, and turned on their computers to start class.
Small children tend to bounce back faster from such changes, Coughlin said, but also typically don't spend as much time getting ready for school as teenagers do, so adding time back to the older kids' lives at the start of each school day would have multiple benefits.
"If they have more time in the morning, they're not rolling out (of bed) maybe not having had enough time to study, not having a chance to take a look at notes again and be prepared for tests," he said. "It puts an enormous amount of pressure on them."
Coughlin said the pandemic has had a negative effect on student mental health according to at least one study, and so the time is right for the state to make this move.
Mental health is one of the issues the Speaker has prioritized in this legislative session overall.
"This is one of those pieces," Coughlin said. "Certainly it doesn't solve all of those challenges, but it begins to recognize that it's a multi-faceted solution, and this is part of it."
Gov. Phil Murphy was asked about the bill at an event Friday, and while he would not comment on the specific legislation, he said he believes a later start time is "a better way to go."
A joint release from Coughlin and Gopal said the measure has the support of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.