By ERIN ROLL
Montclair’s middle and high school students have to get up early in the morning in order to be on time for school, which opens at 7:50 a.m.
But some parents in Montclair are urging the district to consider a later start time for the schools, citing research that says a too-early start time for schools isn’t healthy for teenagers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that middle and high schools start classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m. A 2014 study released by the AAP noted that as children become teenagers, changes in their brain structures lead to changing sleep patterns, including staying up later in the evening and getting up later in the day.
The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine recommends that teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 get between eight and 10 hours of sleep each night.
School districts have cited reasons such as transportation and scheduling issues, including with athletic programs and child care, as reasons against switching to later school start times.
Emanuel Goldman’s 11-year-old son will be starting Glenfield middle school in the fall. Goldman said he was “resigned to early start times,” until he read a New York Times article about research on the effects of early school start times on children.
“It’s certainly the case for the majority of children,” Goldman said.
Goldman considered sending his son to school in the Verona where school for the high school students starts at 8 a.m., and middle school begins at 8:30 a.m. His son ruled against the idea, wanting to be with his friends, and it would have involved paying tuition. Montclair Kimberley Academy was also considered, Goldman said, but he noted that the school’s tuition was an issue. “There’s really not a whole lot of choice around here,” he said.
“I’m really dreading what it’ll do to him and his performance, if this early start time goes ahead,” Goldman said.
While the middle school and high school have set start times, Montclair’s elementary schools have staggered openings after 8 a.m. Hillside has the latest start time of 9:20 a.m.
Earlier openings results in earlier dismissals. Buzz Aldrin and Glenfield Middle Schools dismiss for the day at 2:09 p.m.
Among some of Montclair’s neighboring districts, Glen Ridge High School, which includes grades seven and eight, has a warning bell at 7:55 a.m. Bloomfield Middle School starts at 8:35 a.m., and West Orange High School starts at 7:30 a.m.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 found that 93 percent of high schools and 83 percent of middle schools in the United States start before 8:30 a.m.
Studies by the CDC, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and other institutions have found that lack of sleep in teens is connected to physical and mental health problems, including increased risk of behaviors like drinking and smoking and more likelihood to show signs of depression.
“During puberty, adolescents become sleepy later at night and need to sleep later in the morning as a result in shifts in biological rhythms. These biological changes are often combined with poor sleep habits, including irregular bedtimes and the presence of electronics in the bedroom. During the school week, school start times are the main reason students wake up when they do. The combination of late bedtimes and early school start times results in most adolescents not getting enough sleep,” the CDC states.
The state legislature is considering a bill that would create a pilot program for high schools to test out later start times. Five high schools would be selected to experiment with later start times for classes. The bill has the sponsorship of Sen. Richard Codey, and passed the Senate Education Committee on March 6.
“School start times should not be mandated by the New Jersey Legislature or the NJDOE. Any decision to pursue later school start times must be determined solely by local school districts and must be driven by locally determined situations, conditions, and needs,” according to a report by the New Jersey Department of Education.report. “Given the myriad of characteristics, factors, and variables that distinguish school districts and schools from one another, communities should not be confronted with a ‘one-size fits all’ school start time mandate. The study group does, however, strongly recommend that school districts carefully review the issues attendant to later start times for middle schools and high schools.”
The report recommended that parents and educators should be made aware of the NJDOE’s report, and of current research on the negative effects of lack of sleep.