The Board of Education on Monday voted 6-2 to change to a school start times schedule that will see elementary schools start first in the morning (at 7:50 a.m.), followed by grades seven through 12 (8:30 a.m.) and then grades five and six (9:15 a.m.).
Dubbed “Scenario A” by New Canaan Public Schools officials, the schedule would take effect next April. The Board had also been considering a “Scenario B,” which would have seen grades five and six start first (7:45 a.m.), follows by grades seven through 12 (8:30 a.m.) and the elementary schools last (9:15 a.m.).
Saying additional school buses could be hired on a trial basis, Board member Dionna Carlson urged the elected body to either adopt Scenario A on the condition that the district “solve for” an elementary school start time no earlier than 8 a.m., or else adopt Scenario B.
“We need to sharpen our pencils—7:50 is nice but 8 o’clock is not an unreasonable request and I think that because we have these local schools, you could add a few more buses in the early tier and then those buses would be done getting those kids back quicker than they normally would be if it was a Saxe or high school drop off at the end of the day,” Carlson said during the meeting, held both in persona and via videoconference.
“The research that I read about elementary start times is when you are looking at giving high schoolers more sleep, don’t ever do it at expense of the younger kids,” she added. “That isn’t the right solution and our results have shown that East and West kids are doing phenomenally well at a 9:05 start time, despite what anecdotally our teachers are saying. There is something we are doing that is making those kids perform well.”
Yet other Board of Education members pushed back, saying they trust that NCPS administrators and an “implementation team” being formed now will do what is healthiest and best for children in the school district. They also said it doesn’t make sense to draw a hard line at 8 a.m. when the district already has been able to move the elementary school start time from 7:45 a.m. to 7:50 a.m. and will work toward improving that number even more to get it as late as possible.
Board of Ed member Carl Gardiner said, “I just think we nee to maintain flexibly so to put a hard ‘it needs to be 8 a.m. or bust’ I think is going to create a bad situation.”
Board of Ed member Jennifer Richardson said district officials “have been working on this for so long and personally I have full confidence in our administration and our teachers.”
“Everyone has been working so hard I just feel like if we are not ready to do this in April  and we do not have the support for childcare set up, unless everyone is 100% ready to go,” Richardson said. “The whole reason we are not doing it in the beginning of next year is because we are still dealing with all these COVID-related issues and just trying to get back on our feet with that before jumping into something that’s another really big change. But if we are not making a decision tonight on how we are moving forward, it’s like kicking the can again. I mean how long have we been doing this? Honestly. And you know what? Whatever we decide, we are going to have people who are not happy, for sure.”
Gardiner, Richardson, Vice Chair Brendan Hayes, Secretary Julie Reeves, Penny Rashin and Sheri West voted in favor of implementing Scenario A.
Carlson and Board member Bob Naughton voted against.
Board Chair Katrina Parkhill was absent.
The discussion and vote followed a failed referendum vote last week that would have removed about $460,000 from the Board of Ed’s operating budget next fiscal year—the amount of money needed for additional buses in order to enact changes to school start times.
Several Board of Ed members and members of the public who addressed the panel during a public comments section of the meeting referred to the outcome of the referendum vote. Those opposed to the start times change noted that 42% of those who voted cast votes to remove the funding. Those in favor of the start time changes noted that more people voted against reducing the budget, and also that the balloting itself failed to draw enough electors to carry the referendum.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said he hoped that the implementation team would be formed by the end of this month.
“As we are doing all of this, we are going to always be careful not to over-promise and under-deliver,” he said.
“At this point, as we are doing this, nothing is off the table,” Luizzi said. “So we are going to keeping looking at how we can shift that first tier to get it as late as possible without negatively impacting other tiers. So we will keep bringing those to the Board. But as we know, there’s not a magical solution. We all wish we could just go to bed tonight, wake up tomorrow and say, ‘There it is, all students will go to school at 8:20 or 8:30’ or whatever. It doesn’t work that way. And just really wanting it, doesn’t make it happen. We are bound by the laws of physics, and we really have come to understand many of the constraints that we are dealing with. These are physical constraints. Like the locations of our buildings. The way they are located in our town, it just takes time to travel the roads, to get the buses back. Speed limits on the roads are a limitation. The limitation of the Saxe facility, as we know.”
The Board of Ed began discussing proposed changes to school start times at public meetings in 2017. After years of studies, surveys, workshops and meetings, the superintendent in January 2020 proposed a budget that included funding for new start and end times for the following fiscal and academic year. However, a divided Town Council during its final budget vote effectively forestalled the proposal. Luizzi’s proposed budget for next fiscal year again included the funding for additional buses to change start times, and it was approved by the Board of Ed and town funding bodies.
The referendum grew out of the Town Council’s decision during final budget deliberations to reject a motion to reduce Board of Ed spending by $463,337 next year.
Several parents who have been vocal at past meetings regarding start times and the referendum vote addressed the Board of Ed on Monday night.
Jennifer Dalipi, who helped lead a group opposed to the start times scenario, thanked Carlson and Naughton.
“You both have been shining examples of fairness, empathy, great listeners and tons of courage to stand for our littlest children and quite frankly our high school,” she said.
“All ages have something that is optimal and fair. What the rest of the Board has done has been to cherry-pick data, to drive an agenda that I don’t understand what it gets any of you, except to upset so many in our community. What is wrong with getting all of elementary to 8 a.m.? It is not five minutes. It is not 10 minutes. It is going from 9:05 to 8 o’clock. It’s a huge change for East and West, and even for South. It’s the difference between leaving your house before 7 a.m. in the morning, and 7:15. It’s tremendous. A little empathy from all of you could have been welcomed by so many and its’ so disappointing. I also want to point out: There has got to be a stop to fudging the numbers. 94% of this community did not vote ‘No.’ It is what it is. Of the people who came out and voted, which I understand was a tremendous amount in any referendum in this town. We were thought to maybe getting 500, we got close to 2,000. It’s nothing to sneeze at. We have to stop twisting the numbers. We need to stick to the facts. And we need to have empathy. Very disappointing. You all have shown where you sit and who you are aligned, quite frankly, and honestly it does not feel like tis with the children in this community. And that’s a true shame, considering the positions you are elected to be on.”
Jodie Azzopardi addressed the board “as a member of the community who supports Scenario A and as a an elementary and preschool parent myself.”
“I want to thank the Board for choosing this scenario, which I think will benefit all of our children,” she said. “Thank you to the Board and Dr. Luizzi for all the time and effort you have put into deciding this. I also appreciate all the dissenting votes, because that is part of a democratic process and I hope that as a community we can move forward together and make this work for everybody.”
Hilary Ormond also thanked the Board of Ed and administration “for the time you put into this,” and said that many of the criticisms of school board members and district officials have been inaccurate.
“I just can’t sit here and listen to, frankly, this abuse, about how you don’t care about our youngest children or any children,” Ormond said. “It’s just simply not true. I know that you do. I know that all of you have worked so hard, particularly you, Dr. Luizzi. And I’m just sitting here, and my heart is pounding hearing that. I don’t even have children in the public school system right now, but to know what you all have done over the past year and to hear this come from members of our community just breaks my heart. And I just can’t stand for it. I’m sorry. So I just want to thank you, I want to thank you for what you have done for our students, all of our students, through this issue and through this year. Because the industry of this town is our schools. It’s what has brought people here this year, fleeing from the city. They’ve seen the work that you all do. They know how much you care for our children. So I have full faith that will do your best to get our children to a great start time. It’s going to be the best and the healthiest for our kids.”
The BOE will be spending around $10,000 per day on this change next year ($463,000 / 45 school days) and forcing 4,100 students, 1,000 staff and an untold number of parents and childcare providers to deal with in many cases a material start time change for 45-50 school days before we go into next summer. Keep in mind that this sum is equal to the cost of educating around 18 kids for a year i.e. approximately the same as an entire Elementary school class. It also is equal to around the entire tax income for the town for 25 ‘average’ New Canaan homes ($1.5m). Or if you are one of the many folks interested in seeing the new Library progress, as well as the 1913 structure preserved, this sum would be a material help to that. Why this could not wait until the start of the following year I have no idea, and expect will never know.
“Fudging the numbers”? I thought this referendum was unnecessary and divisive but they wanted a vote and they got their vote. The referendum essentially asked – how many people are upset enough about BOE plans to spend 30 seconds to fill in a bubble on a ballot? The answer? Not many people at all. 6% of voters. And yes there were close to 2000 voters but that’s only because so many people came out to vote NO. The Yes votes totaled only 38% of what was needed to even validate the referendum and were greatly outnumbered by NO voters. In any election, losing 58% – 42% would in itself be considered a landslide. In this referendum, those 800 votes could have been 100% of the votes if no one showed up to vote no and it still would have been a resounding defeat. Those are facts. Can we please move on now?
This is EVERYTHING. Thank you for quite literally being the voice of reason!
Thank you to Dr. Luizzi and the BOE for the years of research and evaluation on school start times and moving forward on this important change. We appreciate your work to get elementary students starting as close to 8am as possible – and it’s a job well done to be within 10 minutes of the “ideal” earliest and latest bell schedules after working through all of the complexities of our district. There are so many competing priorities in a K-12 school system, and we thank you for balancing them all so well. We are glad that the referendum sent a strong message of support also for the school budget, and we hope that our community can now move forward and support our school leaders as they implement this change.
I’m really proud of our Board of Ed for finally voting to move ahead with this start time change. Dr. Luizzi has shown himself to be a highly valued and thoughtful leader and I have full confidence, after years of research, that this change will benefit the entire community. The New Canaan Public School system has been a leader in the state this past year thanks to Dr. Luizzi – now is the time to thank him for keeping our children safe and in school, and for creating a future that will continue to put the health and wellness of all students as a number one priority. With this new schedule, the earliest bus will be at 7:10am instead of 6:30am. This is a monumental improvement and I applaud everyone involved in this arduous process for getting this done. Future generations will be so grateful.
A recent New Yorker cartoon pictured a show dog with a 1st place medal, with the caption: “It is not enough to merely win at Wesminster, for those who dared challenge must now be punished.” These feels about right at this moment. Not content to have at long last secured scenario A, despite significant opposition, those in favor of that particular scenario (the most vocal of whom who curiously have children in private school and thus will be impacted zero), insist upon continuing to malign parents of preschool and elementary parents as somehow disrespectful of the BOE. Let’s be careful not conflate respect with fealty. Discussion, debate and yes, disagreement, are part of a healthy democratic society. A parent can both respect and laud the BOE and also push back against this decision. We can have excellent public schools and an incredible leader in Dr Luizzi and still not feel scenario A is the right choice for our children or our families. So let’s please dispense with the pearl clutching and faux outrage. Hundreds upon hundreds of parents of elementary and preschool parents fought hard for a compromise, either scenario B or the two tier, both of which allow for a later start for teens without sacrificing the sleep of elementary children. Eight hundred NC voters made the difficult decision to vote YES, cut the amount of funding required to implement scenario A mid year. These members of our community, neighbors and friends, pushed against scenario A out of genuine concerns of the unintended consequences, inclusive of sleep deprived small children; 11 hours days between an early start time and after school care for children as young as 4 & 5; diminished family time for dual income families and also for dual income families skyrocketing child care costs under an early dismissal time, by some estimates an additional $9K/ year/ child (for those lucky enough to find a coveted spot in after school childcare programs). We would all due well to remember to read this New Canaanite article once, twice and three times so as to imprint in our memories who voted for what here when scenario A is implemented in April 2022 and the real effects take hold.
The point on the 94% is that folks are playing junior statisticians in this town. This isn’t how it works. It has been voiced there is a presumption yes/no which is pure guess work. If you wanted to extrapolate the data you have to employ look a like models and none of us have that (that is how Facebook knows what you like to shop for and how elections are called). We have to take the numbers as is. We could say the same for the Hanover study with the raw number showing that Scenario A as the least supported (by a lot – if I take the viewpoint from above – a landslide). The data is overrepresented by high school students and parents (and still not well liked). Imagine if it had been normalized and truly representative of the sentiment – my guess is a total landslide but that is my gut and but we can’t do that. It is still a scenario not well supported. Simply there weren’t enough votes but not unnoticed it was far more than expected. And it is opinion (and everyone is entitled to their own) on what is a landslide.
I have always said this process has been flawed. Now the due diligence is starting after the money has been provided. I still compare our school system to corporate America as this is the business of our schools. Before any major corporation make a huge change due diligence is done – after school care, before school care, community impact, sports, clubs, extra help for high school impact is happening now – post decision. No plan for tracking success or danger is in place. We are playing a one-sided social experiment. No due diligence.
Maybe for some with children in private school or high school you can move on but for many who this is now effecting (and still can’t plan because of potential optimizations), no childcare availability, no announcements of before care, etc…this is still a very real issue. A little empathy for those who demand better is warranted.
And as a reminder – the start time is 7:45 – not 7:50 (that wasn’t voted in) – – pick up times are still the same – nothing solidly has been shared. What they need is more busses so in the end it will cost our town more money for a badly liked scenario when there were options. The scenarios on pick up times shared in the last workshop don’t apply to what was voted in – it was to show how expensive a two tier was if you want to change time – selective information.
With all this confusion, cherry picking of information – I hope many whether you voted yes or no can understand why for so many this is difficult and emotional – this is their children.
Dr. Luizzi himself says he has no magic wand – we should have never put him in the spot to make magic or even allude to it. Now magic needs to be made.
As one of the more vocal BOE supporters, I can assure you I have a child at Saxe. I also had children in elementary school that started before 8:00 in another school district. I challenge one parent’s accusation at the BOE meeting the other night that the Board was, “Anti-feminist.” As a feminist myself, I found an earlier start time around 8:00 or earlier to be more convenient for me to get to work. And I challenge the assertion that childcare costs would skyrocket. What about childcare needed for kids in the morning? The need merely shifts for some. And for those that say they rely on high schoolers after school, well isn’t that sacrificing their needs for others? To me the opposition is more about personal schedules than it is about children’s health, and I believe this whole situation has been over-dramatized. But I do agree that as a community we should be concerned about affordable childcare — no matter what the start times. Can we come together to address that need?
Hi Rita – I encourage you you to talk with the BOE about the childcare issue – that this change will exacerbate. The good news is there are very simple solutions that the BOE could take to partially address this. The first is to sync up the preK program they run at west to start at essentially the new start time of k-4 – that solves for some unsynchronized morning start times Issues for families (They should take the opportunity to make it 5 days a week as well for 3’s and add class capacity) . The second thing they can do is run an after school Elementary program equal to or better than the early birds program they presently run at west and East. The third thing they can do is have an early birds program at Saxe for 5-6 so all kids who need parent help in the morning can be on their way at the same time. These three areas are all within the control of the BOE – add immediate capacity into the New Canaan shortage of child care and will be paid for, at least in part, by parents so it minimizes cost to taxpayers. The BOE could not get a half day Wednesday program in place this year – but they now have a year to plan for next April.
These are good points Giacomo that I hope the BOE and administration consider in the implementation process
Yes, good points with regard to recommendations Giacomo. I had a great experience at prior schools that offered daycare on the school grounds. I don’t believe the school or district paid into it. I believe the parents paid enough to cover costs. There was another entity that managed it, but it was so convenient having the care on school grounds. And, even if you didn’t use the service on a regular basis, you could “drop in” if something came up with your schedule or existing daycare. You just paid a drop-in fee. It was offered for 30 minutes prior to start time and then up until 6 in the evening if needed. My kids were able to get their homework done at the homework club and played with their friends outside or in the arts and crafts room rather than sitting at home alone. I thought it was awesome.
Exactly – we had the same in public (Elementary) school in NYC – it was so helpful for dual income parents (or 1 parent head of households who were externally employed).
Let’s be careful not make assumptions about the schedules of working parents simply because New Canaan is largely an economically advantaged town. Our demographics are increasingly diversified and families have real constraints. There are low income persons in this community, families reliant upon dual incomes who STRETCH simply to live in New Canaan and send their children to its excellent schools. By and large low(er) income persons have less work flexibility than their wealthier peers, for example to accommodate for an early dismissal time. That is not to mention the sheer ability (or lack there of) to pay for childcare.
I have to say it’s odd to hear you seem concerned about low income families in town when you had no issue whatsoever spending $20-30,000 of town money (that perhaps could have been used on childcare subsidies or otherwise) to pay for a referendum that your fellow proponent admits wasn’t expected to garner 500 votes, much less the 2000+ it needed to succeed.
“Its only 10 minutes” is the common response when parents of elementary school children ask for their children to at least start at 8:00AM, which is still one of the earliest start times in CT. Why cant this be promised and if not a single minute can be found by the traffic consultants then all of the Tiers can be shifted back “10 minutes” to make this happen. So in the absolute worst case High Schoolers would start at 8:40AM. Apparently “10 minutes” is not a big deal when you take it from elementary school children, who in many cases would already be giving up 75 minutes, but completely unacceptable when asking High School students who are getting 60 minutes. For those that are concerned about darkness at drop off for the last Tier please refer to the Civil Twilight tables that the administration has been quoting to justify such an early start for our elementary school children. Those very same tables indicate the very earliest sunset is well over an hour later than Scenario A drop offs, so simply pick a table, the one that has our children boarding buses in the dark or the one that gives our last Tier plenty of time to get home before dark. I can send you the tables if you do not have them.
I think it is truly sad that this small compromise cannot even be assured and further demonstrates where the administrations current priorities lie.
I’m loathe to weigh in here, but having been called out as the “vocal supporter” (I would hardly say “most”) with children at a private school, I suppose I must. First, claiming I will have zero impact from any change simply because my children are at at private school is taking an extremely myopic view of the situation. My kids are involved in many activities in which NCPS kids are also involved; any changes to those schedules also impact them. Second, friends who are like family to us will be impacted, and I don’t take that lightly. Third, I do pay property taxes here, a hefty portion of which subsidizes our schools, so I am a stakeholder in that respect too.
My comments last night though we’re about tone and respect. I was flabbergasted at the comments leveled at Dr. Luizzi and the BOE. Of course fealty is not expected; but a modicum of respect is. I honestly wonder what the opponents of the start times plan hope to accomplish by speaking in this manner? Was it simply an exorcism of frustration? Was it an attempt to bully them into submission? I come from a time and place where you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. You can try to rewrite history here by saying you were just “debating,” but anyone can listen to the recording from last night and hear what it really was.
What you are seeing is an intense frustration after years of honey, supplying research, asks of engagement.
New Canaan is a great town. One filled with a lot of type A personalities that makes us the successes we are. Not easy to maneuver for sure.
This was bound to happen based on the repeated actions of the past two years and could have been avoided. I have said for some this was an ending for many others it is just a beginning. There is much to learn and much to be healed.
The healing won’t start until some rationale is provided addressing why the research provided couldn’t be acknowledged, pediatrician recommendations, early education experts (outside of our town) and some concession to other parents. There were choices to solve for all (more beyond the scenarios currently discussed). Many are just trying to wrap their heads around it now.
Honey burns after being left on the heat for too long. It has been too long and parts of the community are beyond upset and frustrated.
I understand there are many who are frustrated, but I fail to see how that justifies what was said to the BOE and Dr. Luizzi at the hearing, which was truly disrespectful and callous. I’ll remind you that a group of parents have been advocating for a change in start times for years—and even when their efforts did not bear fruit year after year, they never, ever spoke to the BOE or the administration in the manner you all did.
My goodness—I listened to most of the BOE meetings and I do not recall any disrespectful comments aimed at Dr. Luizzi or the BOE. Nearly all commenters went out of their way to offer praise for the management of the schools during Covid. Good faith *questioning* of a decision making process is not disrespectful. I hope that Dr. Luizzi and the BOE are not as thin-skinned as you seem to imagine them.
You must not have been around for the redistricting when homes
in West School District were moved to The South School District. At that time South School was considered to be in “the working class” district. LOL. Now that was ugly. Turned out that South School became the best elementary school in the state. A lot of anger for nothing in the end.
I really do not think you understand our frustration. Do we believe with all our hearts that this will be harmful to our children? Yes, we do. Do we believe that there was a solution that would have worked for all our students? Yes, as I assume the 2-Tier Scenario that was presented at the last BOE workshop was not presented as lip service but was presented because it could be implemented.
However, that is only half of our frustration. While you are correct that a group of parents have been advocating for this change for a number of years, they appeared to have their views and research considered from the start. While our research and valid concerns remain largely ignored. They were not labelled as non-supporters of the administration when they didn’t believe the administrations schedule was in the best interest of students. Were they?
We have also provided research from dozens of doctors, researchers and sleep professionals. Yet the BOE keeps insisting there is no research on the potential harm this change could cause to elementary school children. That is frustrating.
When they fabricate and promote the concept of “Optimal Learning Time” which no 1st year college student would ever sanction as research and actually runs contrary to empirical evidence, that is frustrating.
When they ignore the average elementary school start times of thousands upon thousands of successful elementary schools in CT, the United States and Globally but instead focus on a few school districts in MA as if their start time was in any way the norm. that is frustrating.
So, yes are we frustrated that if has come to this, but we are equally frustrated by the process which has led us here.
Comment thread closed.