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A Petition Asks for a Later Montgomery High School Start Time, Says Students Are Sleep Deprived

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted May 9, 2024

An online petition started by Montgomery Township, NJ, parent Natasha Wolfson, MD, had almost 750 signatures as of May 9. The petition asks the Montgomery School Board to change the high school start time from 7:45 am to 8:30 am or later in order to improve student health.

A sleepy student

AI-generated image of a sleepy student.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both recommend that middle and high schools start at 8:30 am or later to give students the opportunity to obtain the recommended amount of nightly sleep.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation include: feeling irritable, depressed, anxious, stressed, paranoid, or even experiencing suicidal thoughts. It can also affect the immune system, causing people to become sick more easily, or to recover, according to Mayo Clinic. It's even worse for children who's bodies are still developing and growing, and who need even more sleep than adults.

Concerned residents of Montgomery say they are deeply worried about the sleep health of their teens. "Implementing a later high school start time in Montgomery is important for optimal teen health and education, and aligns with the recommendations of leading national bodies of health research and policy,” according to their petition.

The current early start time for Montgomery High School is causing many teens to be sleep-deprived, which is unhealthy, Natasha Wolfson, MD, said. “This lack of adequate sleep is not merely an inconvenience; it has been shown to lead to physical and mental health issues and can negatively impact academic performance. Let’s prioritize our students’ well-being in Montgomery.”

Natasha Wolfson, MD, and her husband Alexander Wolfson, MD,

From left: Natasha Wolfson, MD, and her husband Alexander Wolfson, MD, of Montgomery Township at the April 30 school board meeting. The Wolfsons have two children in the district.

Natasha said she started the petition in March for two reasons: To remind everyone that this is an important issue and to assess whether this is an important issue within the community.

"Student health, including sleep deprivation, is extremely important," she said. "It doesn't feel like anything is being done to work on this specific issue — delaying the high school start time to what is recommended by national boards — which is ideally 8:30 am."

Montgomery School District Superintendent Mary E. McLoughlin responded that the high school used to start at about 7:15 am. "We did adjust the time by almost a half an hour when we returned to full in person instruction after COVID at the high school."

McLoughlin said the district also is exploring whether it can change its bus schedule to allow students to get more sleep in in the morning.

“We are looking into transportation," she said. "We have triple-tier busing right now and with that we are very restricted. It’s millions of dollars to not have a triple tier. We are looking into the busing and having Orchard Hill and Village elementary schools bused together, and LMS and UMS bussed together so that we could adjust the times."

McLoughlin said the district worked closely with Montgomery School Physician Bert Mandelbaum, MD. "I speak with him regularly and I’ve been to his presentations. This is something that we have always put on our priority lists."

Montgomery School Physician Bert Mandelbaum has made his position clear: "To do nothing is really to do harm. And that's kind of where I sit on this."

Princeton High School pushed back its start time to 8:20 am. Superintendent McLoughlin said she and the previous Montgomery High School principal visited Princeton to see how they did it.

"First and foremost, only a small percentage of their students are bused," McLoughlin said. "They are a mainly a walking-school-district. And, they have a “drop schedule.” On day one, they start with Period 1 and finish with Period 8. On the second day, they start with Period 2 and end with Period 1. Every child misses a significant amount of school to go to sports and after school activities, so they would not miss the same last two classes a day.

"For us, it was not an option to have students miss any time out of school and we have a block schedule, not a rotating drop schedule," the superintendent said.

Alexander Wolfson, MD, also addressed the Montgomery School Board on April 30, asking the board members to "immediately form a working group to figure out how we can reduce depression, suicide, and poor outcomes for our students by delaying high school start times."


Montgomery Youth Tackle Football

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, teenagers who do not get enough sleep (8-10 hours per day) are at higher risk for a variety of physical and mental health problems, including:

  • Obesity

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Poor academic performance

  • Drug/alcohol use

  • Drowsy driving accidents

California and Florida have become the first states to require later public school start times in response to years of research that show significant advantages for high school students who can sleep more by starting their school day at 8:30 am or later. Numerous states have similar legislation pending.

Within New Jersey, several school districts have implemented a later high school start time, including the neighboring Princeton Public School District. “So we know that it can be done with success,” according to the petition. “All districts face obstacles in transportation logistics, budgeting, and staff willingness to make changes in school schedules. We believe the Montgomery School District is capable of finding solutions to these issues in order to prioritize our students’ health and well-being. “Reorganizing the transportation system by combining our two elementary school bus routes and our two middle school bus routes can help alleviate the transportation issue.” “We have an opportunity here to make a significant difference in their lives by giving them more time each morning to rest.”



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