N.J. bill pushes schools’ start time back, but could cause students stress

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Photo Credit: Photo credit via Katherine Albuquerque

Most New Jersey high schools start before 8 a.m. However, this proposed bill by N.J. legislation could have classes starting at 8:30 a.m. or later.

For years, there have been debates on whether or not high schools should start at later times. As more studies come out, New Jersey legislation has proposed a new bill that would force all high schools in the state to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. But with a later start time, the school day would end later as well, which can pose issues for some students. 

Adolescent Sleep Delay

Most teenagers go to sleep late. However, the reason is not because of adolescent rebellion but because of their melatonin production. Melatonin is released later in the night in teenagers than it is in adults and children. This natural and normal shift in a teenager’s circadian rhythm is called “sleep phase delay.” 

The delay in melatonin production pushes back about two hours. This results in most teenagers not being sleepy before 11 p.m., and ultimately staying up late. Staying up late causes teenagers to often wake up later in the day as well. As adolescents, they need at least eight to ten hours of sleep per night for proper brain development and function. 

School Start Times Effects on Teenagers

Although adolescents need at least eight hours of sleep per night, many usually don’t get that. The National Sleep Foundation found that in 2006, 45% of adolescents got less than eight hours of sleep per night. Between 2007 to 2013, 69% of high school students got seven or fewer hours of sleep per night. 

The biggest issue that is cutting down adolescents’ sleep time is the time high schools start. Most high schools, such as Colonia High, start between 7:30 and 8 a.m. This causes an issue when teenagers fall asleep later and tend to naturally wake up later in the morning. 

A lack of adequate amount of sleep can pose serious health risks for teens. Studies have found that teenagers who do not get enough sleep were more prone to cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and poor glucose metabolism. 

New Jersey Bill

Two NJ Lawmakers, one of which being the leader of the state assembly, recently proposed a new bill (A3816)  that would delay the time high schools start. Classes would not be able to start before 8:30 a.m. This bill would go into effect for the 2024-25 school year and forward. 

The alarming rates of anxiety and depression in teenagers are what inspired the bill. The rise of suicide attempt rates has been up in New Jersey, and the state is currently in a mental health crisis. This bill hopes to ease some of the mental struggles of adolescents in the state. 

Debates over the Bill

While many are excited about possibly getting more sleep, there have been many concerns about what happens after school. The end of the school day would be pushed back around 45 minutes since school would begin later. For example, Colonia High School’s school day ends at 2:30 p.m., but this bill would cause the day to end around 3:15 p.m.

There are many things that students have to do after school. Homework is the most obvious task, which usually takes high school students typically 3.5 hours to complete. Students who have five or more teachers may find themselves with 17.5 total hours spent on homework per week. 

Students who are involved in sports or extracurricular activities will also have those responsibilities to accomplish. Most extracurricular activities in Colonia High School, such as club meetings, start right after school and tend to end around 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. If the school day ends later, they could be getting out of meetings around 4:30 to 5 p.m., and then still have to go home and finish their homework. 

If the schedule gets pushed back then sports could be starting as late as 7 p.m. This means students involved in sports would be getting home around 9 p.m. and likely will have homework to complete. 

Students’ Thoughts on the Bill 

The idea of pushing back high school start times was split among students and staff. A poll I conducted that was open to anyone received 105 responses. Of those 105, 57.1% said they’d rather come in earlier, whereas 42.9% said they would like to come in later. 

Many said that they would like to get more sleep, so coming in later would be ideal. Others stated that pushing the time school starts would cause more chaos to students- push back their own schedules and cause them to get home at later times. 

Final thoughts

I have been in favor of pushing back school start times for many years. However, I never took into account how the entire school day would be pushed back in all aspects. Although this bill will not affect me since I’m graduating this year, it will affect other students, so I feel my thoughts on it could be helpful. 

On one hand, I know that waking up later would be beneficial for my mental and physical health. I have found that whenever I am waking up for school, it’s usually when I’m right in the middle of a dream. This leaves me feeling groggy and extremely drowsy for the first few minutes of being awake. It also leaves me in a bad mood most mornings compared to when I wake up later on the weekends. 

On the other hand, having the school day get pushed back later would leave me and many other students feeling overwhelmed due to the lack of personal time we’d get. We all have different schedules; however, I think it’s a universal feeling to want some time in the day to ourselves. 

The majority of our days involve being in school, so having school-related tasks being pushed back even later into the day might push into our personal time. This could be even more detrimental to our mental health. It would be chaotic- trying to complete all our tasks before it gets too late in the night despite getting home around five to nine p.m. every day, while still trying to make time for ourselves, and go to sleep at reasonable hours. 

A solution to this issue could be simply not changing the time the school day ends. If school starts at 8:30 a.m. and ends around 2:30 p.m., then that would have students in school for six hours at least while still giving them enough time in the afternoon.