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Many Doctors Say School Should Never Begin Before 8:30 am, Find Out Why

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted February 22, 2024


Alexander Wolfson, MD, asked the Montgomery School Board during its public comment session on January 5 to re-visit school start times. Dr. Wolfson, who has two children in the Montgomery public schools, said he wanted to follow up on a letter the Montgomery Board of Health (MBOH) sent to the school nearly two years ago.


Montgomery resident Alexander Wolfson, MD, has served on the Board of Health.


Dr. Wolfson has served on the MBOH for several years. He is an anesthesiologist with Princeton Anesthesia Services, PC, and has two children. “There are clear and distinct recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that school should never start before 8:30 am,” he said. “It leads to increased suicide, depression, and obesity, among teenagers especially.”


Montgomery School Superintendent Mary E. McLoughlin says school start times did come up during the district’s strategic planning sessions this year. “In addition to that, every year we look at the busing and the different scenarios, and it is something that has always been on our plate. We are continuing that work.”


The following schedules still do not meet the AAP recommendations. Montgomery High School classes begin at 7:45 am and end at 2:22 pm. Upper Middle School (grades 7 and 8) classes now begin at 8:20 am and end at 3:05 pm. Lower Middle School classes run from 8:25 am to 3:10 pm. The elementary schools all begin significantly later. Village Elementary School (grades 3 and 4) begins at 9:35 am and ends at 3:50 pm. Orchard Hill Elementary (grades K, 1, and 2) begins at 9:35 am and ends at 3:55 pm.


Why are schools hesitant to push back start times?

Start times impact extracurriculars, bussing, and sports schedules, and create new schedules that may be unpopular with teachers and staff. Dr. Wolfson says, “I understand there may be some resistance from the high school teachers, but I think this should be looked at again,” Regarding bussing, he asked, “Do we really need two separate buses for lower and middle schools? Could one bus take kids to both locations?” “It’s a really important topic,” Dr. Wolfson concluded.


New Legislation

“California and Florida have become the first states to require later public school start times, in response to reams of research showing significant advantages for high school students who can get more sleep by beginning their day at 8:30 am or later,” according to The New Jersey Monitor.


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Lawmakers in New Jersey had bills in 2022-23 that would require public schools that receive state aid to begin regular instruction for high school students no earlier than 8:30 am. The bills (S2462 co-sponsored by Sen. Andrew Zwicker and A3816) are stalled.


Local high school start times:

  • Franklin Township: 7:20 am

  • Bridgewater-Raritan: 7:20 am

  • Hillsborough: 7:30 am

  • South Brunswick: 7:35 am

  • Hopewell: 7:45 am

  • Montgomery: 7:45 am

  • Princeton: 8:20 am


The science behind later start times for schools

Montgomery School District Physician Bert Mandelbaum is chairperson of the Task Force on Adolescent Sleep and School Start Times for the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He has spoken over the years to Montgomery school officials and parents about the impact of sleep deprivation on middle and high school students. Dr. Mandelbaum is also pediatrician with Princeton Nassau Pediatrics in Skillman and is chairman of the department of pediatrics for Penn Medicine Princeton Health.


He has told The Montgomery News that: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a lack of sleep is common among high school students and is associated with increased risk of being overweight, drinking, using drugs, and poor academic performance.


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools not start before 8:30 am, and says changing to later start times would result in better outcomes for teens, including reduced obesity risk, lower rates of depression, fewer drowsy driving crashes, and improved quality of life.


The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that kids 13-18 should sleep eight to 10 hours a day. The policy statement says adolescents have circadian rhythms that prevent them from falling asleep earlier in the evening. A study by the Rand Corporation found the economic benefit of later school start times “would outweigh the costs within five years after the change” in the vast majority of states, mostly due to less use of mental health facilities and juvenile judiciary and detention.


Watch an in-depth video with Dr. Mandelbaum at: youtube.com/watch?v=lwJ2l3hZHDA.


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