Starting high school later will have major ripple effects, warns the New Jersey Superintendent

The Superintendent of Schools in one of New Jersey’s largest counties is calling for caution because state lawmakers are considering making 8:30 a.m. the early start time allowed for high schools.

Hamilton Superintendent Scott R. Rocco did not oppose the proposal, but described possible complications in a letter to three lawmakers this week. Its district has 23 schools, including three high schools, and has 12,400 K-12 students.

“Changing time in high school is a lone domino in the long run. This transfer will affect many other things in the day-to-day operations and annual planning of all schools in the school district and will have external impacts on families and the community as a whole,” Rocco wrote in a letter sent Thursday by NJ Advance Media.

Rocco wrote that enacting a nationwide mandate for high school start-up time, without adequate time for local planning, would affect transportation and after-school activities, could run into union contracts and risk inconvenience to families.

“If this is the direction our elected officials feel we must go, then we should be given enough time to identify the impact this change will have and be able to plan it correctly,” Rocco concluded.

His letter was sent to three lawmakers from his county, including Sen. Linda Greenstein, District D-14.

Sponsors of the bill in the New Jersey Legislature, including Assembly Speaker Craig Kocklin, D-Middlesex, noted the impact on students’ mental health due to insufficient sleep and noted that the corona plague exacerbates anxiety and depression rates among adolescents.

Chatham High School, Morris County, recently announced that it is returning the start of high school from 7:40 a.m. to 8:20 p.m.

“We can all agree that the last two years have been a challenge for our students and communities,” Rocco wrote in his letter.

“Recovery from the epidemic will require social and emotional support, as well as mental health services, for our children when they return to the pre-epidemic routine of school and out-of-school activities. In addition, no one shares the benefits of full night’s rest so our students can be focused and productive. More in school, “Rocco wrote.

In his letter, Rocco wrote that transportation costs for the 2022-23 school year are expected to increase by 10% to 15% due to fuel costs and a shortage of drivers.

“Changing the high school’s start time could result in increased costs if counties are unable to rate their start and end times to maximize bus lines and usage,” Rocco wrote.

Rocco wrote that Hamilton’s high schools now begin at 7:50 a.m., followed by middle schools at 8:25 a.m. and elementary schools at 8:45 p.m.

“In order to accommodate the change in the high schools, we will have to change the times of all 24 schools in our district. The impact will not only be on high school students, but on all students and their families who have established a routine around the school day,” he wrote.

Post-school activities, especially sports, are another possible complication, he added.

“Hamilton does not have lights on our athletics fields, so outdoor activities are limited to daylight hours, which decrease daily in the fall. A change in start time limits the free time after school because graduation time will be later,” he wrote.

New Jersey is ranked 12th earliest in the state, with an average high school start time of 7:51 a.m., as of 5 years ago – the last collection available through the Federal National Center for Education Statistics.

Rocco was named Supervisor of the Year for 2022 last November by the New Jersey School Principals Association.

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Most Jennings can be reached at rjennings@njadvancemedia.com.

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