POLL: Should Columbia High School Have a Later Start Time?

by The Village Green
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A local group of Maplewood and South Orange parents has started a petition to urge the administration of Columbia High School to consider a later start time for the school. Currently, CHS begins at 7:30 a.m. for the majority of students (depending on their schedules, some students’ first class is not until second period which starts at 8:25 a.m.)

Here is a link to the petition, which by Tuesday afternoon night had garnered more than 400 signatures.

The issue of too-early start times for high schools has become a nationwide topic of study and debate in recent years, with some school districts opting to move start times later to accommodate teens’ biological clocks and to address an epidemic of sleep deprivation among young people.

In August of last year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a study showing how sleep deprivation harms teenagers and that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep are at an increased risk of being overweight, suffering depression, and struggling academically.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later.

Yet fewer than one-third of U.S. students get at least 8 hours of sleep on school nights, and four out of five middle and high schools start their day before 8:30 a.m.

The SOMA group, which has become an official local chapter of the national Start School Later movement, was formed by local parents Kristina Kohler, Kim Huebner, Kathy Allen-Roth and Laurie Tarkan. “We were brought together…because of our mutual frustration with the early start time and how it was hurting our children,” said Tarkan. The group met with Supt. Dr. John Ramos before the November Education Summit — at which later start times was part of the “Reinventing the High School” breakout group — and they plan a meeting with CHS Principal Elizabeth Aaron.

“Dr. Ramos was open minded about a later school start and we did discuss some of the obstacles,” said Tarkan. Board of Education member Annemarie Maini attended the meeting, to listen to the concerns and understanding next steps for the group.

In signing the petition, BOE student representative Nina Kimbili wrote, “The pressure to go from 7:30-3:01, with a full extracurricular schedule and an extremely rigorous…course load…is simply too much for high school kids….The solution might not be easy but student health is too important to ignore for any longer. If the district wants to claim to value students and excellence…then they need to act on it.”

This is not the first time the issue has become a topic of conversation in the SOMSD. Roughly two years ago, then-CHS student Mia Goldstein launched a similar effort to bring attention to the problem.

South Orange resident and parent John Lopos, who is on the Board of Directors of the National Sleep Foundation and chairs its Public Awareness Committee, said the foundation supports communities taking an active interest in how sleep affects children’s health and academic performance.

“…the science of sleep and circadian biological clocks has been trumped by bus logistics, after school extracurricular activities and convenience issues in establishing school start times,” said Lopos, leading to a negative impact on health and performance. “Progressive communities across the country are looking at school start times with our kids’ health and performance as a top priority, and more communities are becoming engaged and deciding to move to later start times.”

What do you think? Should CHS start later, or will that cause too many issues with bussing and sports schedules? Take our poll here:


Here is the petition in full:

We, the concerned residents and parents of South Orange and Maplewood, are writing to urge you to make the start time for Columbia High School later, in order to promote the health, well-being and academic success of our students.

Major studies show that most adolescents suffer from sleep deprivation when their school day begins before 8:30 AM. Most teens undergo a “phase delay” in their sleep patterns, causing them to naturally fall asleep later and wake up later in the morning than they did in early childhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that high schools start class after 8:30 AM.

According to the CDC, 70% of all teens are sleep deprived.

Sleep deprivation endangers children’s health and safety, contributing to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, obesity, and car crashes, among many other issues. Inadequate sleep is also associated with poorer academic and athletic performance.

Schools that have changed to later start times report that their students show improved attendance, improved academic performance, higher standardized test scores, increased efficiency in homework, lower rates of depression, fewer disciplinary referrals, and increased total sleep. One city experienced a 70% reduction in teen car crashes.

We believe a later school start will benefit all our high school students.

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