Updated Jan. 12 to reflect increased number of signatures.
In the last few days, more than 200 Millburn High School students and parents have signed a national petition to get the government to mandate that the school day start later.
The petition is part of a national campaign to provide teenagers with more time for sleep, based on studies showing that high school students are seriously sleep deprived. A handful of students in neighboring districts of South Orange-Maplewood, West Orange and Livingston also signed the petition.
The petition seeking to promote legislation to prohibit public schools from starting the school day before 8 a.m. has garnered nearly half of the 5,000 signatures needed before it can be brought before Congress, the Senate and President Barack Obama.
“When we reach 5,000, we will be hand-delivering this petition to select members of Congress and the White House administration,” said Terra Ziporyn Snider, with Start School Later, a group of parents, medical professionals and caregivers circulating the petition.
Snider said she was surprised to see so many students from Millburn and Short Hills on it. The school day at Millburn High School officially begins at 7:45 a.m.
“We got 100 signatures on it today, in fact,” said Snider, a mother in Severna Park, Md., who has been working on the issue for 10 years since she saw how sleep-deprived her own children were becoming in school.
“It's basically too late for my kids – my son is a junior in high school, but my daughters are already in their 20s,” Snider said. “We've already seen several cases where the national push is breathing new life into local efforts and may, in fact, be the only way for local systems ever to change.”
The issue has come up several times in meetings with the Millburn Board of Education, often by board president Michael Birnberg who has said he would like to see the start time pushed back for high school students.
“High school kids start too early,” he repeated at the last board retreat, when he was trying to push for a later start time this year.
The issue is one that the board has suggested be addressed in the strategic plan.
Some of the students from Millburn and Short Hills also left comments on the online petition.
Jonas Singer, a swimmer and junior at MHS wrote on the petition: "Many students in my graduating class (2013) get as little as 4 hours of sleep a night. This is well below the CDC recommendation of a minimum of 8.5 hours. School seems to be the main reason for our sleep deprivation. I would like to see later mornings so every student can keep a healthy lifestyle while getting a first rate education. As an athlete, sleep is extremely important for my performance. Being able to sleep in, would allow me to stay more alert in school, on the road, and in the swimming pool."
Another student said a later start time would cut down on depression, mood swings and the use of stimulants by some students to stay awake.
While the petition calls for a start time no earlier than 8 a.m., Snider and many in the movement think that 8:30 a.m. or later would be better, and many from Millburn and Short Hills agree with that.
Wrote one mom: "I completely agree that school start times before 8 a.m. are inhumane and affect children negatively. I watch my three daughters walk to the school bus every morning at 6:57 a.m. in the dark, like zombies with bloodshot eyes still too tired to even speak. There is no reason schools should do this to children! Please change the school start times to after 8 a.m. My three kids spend the entire weekends sleeping to try to catch up from sleep deprivation during the week."
The case of more sleep for teenage students
According to the Sleep Foundation, only 14 percent of teenagers get the recommended nine hours of sleep on a school night. Start School Later points to several studies that address the need for sleep in adolescents.
- A study conducted by the University of Minnesota found that because of their natural body rhythms, teens have trouble falling asleep before 11 at night and so waking up to get to school seven hours later prohibits teens from getting enough sleep.
- New York Magazine reported the findings of sleep expert Dr. Avi Sadeh of Tel Aviv University, who said, “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to [the loss of] two years of cognitive maturation and development.”
- Teens who get more sleep are more alert in the morning and therefore less likely to be involved in car accidents, the leading cause of death among adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To view or sign the petition, click here.
Caitlin Mazzola in Fairfield, Conn., contributed to this report.