BOE student reps argue for later high school start time

West Orange High School

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Board of Education discussed making the start time of the school day at West Orange High School later at its Feb. 11 meeting, after student representatives to the board presented research in support of the change. The district has discussed the topic in past years and will now consider giving students extra time in the morning, with the homeroom bell ringing at or after 8:30 a.m. Currently, the WOHS day starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 2:15 p.m.

“I think it’s pretty common knowledge at this point, but youth in America suffer from severe lack of sleep and sleep deprivation,” student representative Sessina Dani, a WOHS senior, said at the meeting. “Adolescents need about nine hours of sleep per night but only about 8 percent receive that amount, and the percentage of students that receive the proper amount of sleep decreases as you get older.”

According to Dani, research compiled by herself and student representative Aarushi Bhatnagar shows that the high school day should start later. She pointed out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest middle and high school students should not start school before 8:30 a.m. She also said that, despite this, 93 percent of American high school students start school before 8:30.

“Insufficient sleep has been linked to poor mental health, poor physical health, behavioral problems, poor academic grades and so on,” Dani said. “And it can even go as far as risky behavior and increased school violence related behaviors.”

In addition to the health benefits of a later school start, Dani said research suggests that it leads to fewer motor vehicle crashes involving teenagers.

“Even a delay of an hour in one Kentucky county decreased motor vehicle crashes by 16.5 percent,” she said — a promising statistic when, in that same time period, “in the entire state of Kentucky, the rate for that age group actually went up 7.8 percent.”

Acting Superintendent Eveny de Mendez said she and WOHS Principal Hayden Moore are working to form a committee to consider changing the high school’s start time. At the request of BOE member Mark Robertson, de Mendez also said parents would be given a survey in the future.

“It could be three to five questions to at least get some data as to where parents are in relation to this topic,” Robertson said at the meeting. “There’s definitely overwhelming evidence that more sleep is better from a safety standpoint, from a health standpoint and from a performance standpoint.”

Robertson said research also shows that the circadian rhythm of a teenager is different than that of an adult or younger child.

“It’s not just a matter of teens wanting to stay up later, their bodies are more inclined to stay up later,” he said. “So they begin their sleep cycle later and that would require, in order to get enough sleep, their morning starting later. There’s a wealth of scientific evidence on this now.”

Bhatnagar said she and Dani are working on a survey to send to students.

“We were actually planning on sending one out to students,” Bhatnagar said at the meeting. “So the parents can also access that survey by looking over their children’s shoulders. If there’s anything that they’d like to add we can include a section in that survey.”

BOE member Sandra Mordecai asked de Mendez to consider the fact that, a few years ago, when the high school’s start time was changed to be earlier the district saved about $700,000 in the budget on transportation, and to keep that in mind when considering changing it back.

BOE member Cheryl Merklinger also asked the student representatives to research more of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association rules, which would affect the starting times for after-school sports practices if the morning start time is changed.

“That does have a domino effect on our younger youth sports programs,” Merklinger said at the meeting. “The later the high school ends, the later the 6- and 7-year-olds who are already starting practice at 6 or 7 o’clock would now get bumped to possibly 8. That’s something we need to think about in terms of what time school ends.”