Lawmakers propose bill that calls for 8:30 a.m. start time for all NJ high schools

New Jersey lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow teens to sleep in statewide. Sponsors of the bill want to make it so that no New Jersey high school can start earlier than 8:30 a.m.
The first bell at Chatham High School rings at 7:40 a.m. this year. But starting next fall, students will get to come in at 8:20 a.m.
A later start time is something a handful of schools in the state have either already implemented or are looking into. And now some state lawmakers want to see a later start time mandated to improve mental health conditions.
Chatham Schools Superintendent Michael LaSusa points to research that shows that teens need more sleep than they are getting. More sleep will help battle mental health issues like stress, anxiety and depression. These issues were all made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We always look for ways we can lessen that anxiety and when you look at research, a later start time does help,” says Tenafly High School Principal Jim Morrison.
Morrison pitched the idea of a later start time for his school in 2017.
“The teenaged brain just can’t shut down the same way that an adult’s brain or a child’s brain can, at an earlier time. And the same thing on the other end also, there is a delay before teens can wake up and be ready to go,” Morrison says.
The principal says a survey of his students shows that the later start time has been working well – for his district at least.
But other school officials say that later start times simply will not work.
“We do not have elementary runs we control that we can bounce off of,” says Freehold Regional Superintendent Dr. Charles Sampson.
Sampson says his district considered and then sidelined the idea after realizing that the shift would cost millions more in transportation alone. He says there are other logistical concerns as well, including family child care issues and after-school activities and sports.
“There’s a lot more work to be done. It’s very nuanced. Very district-specific in some cases,” Sampson says. “The thought is all in its infancy and my hope here is that with some really structured, clear conversation – the best possible outcome would be to pilot it.”
The bill calls for the later start time to begin in the 2024-2025 school year. But details would still need to be worked out.