District Rules Out Later School Start Times for 2018-19 Academic Year

District officials plan this spring to present data about how starting school later in the morning could affect areas such as bus scheduling, costs, extracurricular activities, homework and classroom learning—framing a wider community discussion that would push any possible change until after next academic year, according to the superintendent of schools.

A team of New Canaan Public Schools administrators currently is working with a third-party company to gather data about what starting school later would entail, with an eye on taking that information and developing, with the aid of a different consultant, “some possible recommendations both of what could happen and what would be the cost-benefit” of various scenarios, Dr. Bryan Luizzi said.

Those recommendations are to be presented to the Board of Education in the spring, Luizzi said. At that point, public hearings would open up so that input can be had from parents and the wider community.

“It’s not simply a matter of starting later,” Luizzi said, adding that “you have to take time” to study comprehensively what would follow from a change to school start times prior to making a decision.

“If the [school] board asks us to investigate further and come back with some proposals for a change, then the soonest would be the ’19-‘20 school year,” he told NewCanaanite.com.

New Canaan High School currently runs from 7:30 a.m. to 2:05 p.m. Seventh- and eighth-graders at Saxe Middle School operate on the same schedule, while fifth- and sixth-graders’ days run from 8:20 a.m. to 2:55 p.m. At South School, the day runs from 8:15 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., while the other two elementary schools run from 9:05 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.

To accomplish that, NCPS operates on a three-tiered busing schedule, where the same buses can go through multiple pick-ups and drop-offs each day. That provides a cost-savings to New Canaan over, say, running a dedicated bus simultaneously district-wide, which would require additional vehicles and drivers.

Just how much it would cost in busing fees alone to accommodate new start times—for example, by pinching together more schools’ hours—is one key piece of the study now underway, Luizzi said.

“Those are some of the variables,” he said. “Those are some of the constraints, and there are other questions. So that is why it takes some time.”

The update from the superintendent comes as parents who favor a change have organized via a “Start School Later New Canaan” website. They cite the findings of public health studies on sleep deprivation as a major reason for pushing back school start times, have launched an online petition and are calling for those in favor of the change to attend the Jan. 22 Board of Ed meeting, which is focused in part on next year’s budget. (Luizzi last week presented a proposed fiscal year 2019 budget to the school board and it did not include notes on any costs associated with starting school later.)

In New Canaan, district officials first publicly raised the possibility of starting school later in August, during a review of NCPS goals for the current academic year. The issue also came up during a candidate forum in October, and (now-Selectman) Kit Devereaux pointed out that the League of Women Voters of New Canaan more than a decade ago recommended later school start times based on adolescent sleep needs.

The superintendent noted that in Boston, officials last month postponed by one year an adopted plan to change school start times “because of the complexity of it all.”

“We do not want to fall into a similar trap,” he said.

To try and push forward with a change for the 2018-19 academic year “would be overly aggressive and it would be unwise to do that,” Luizzi said.

He underscored that New Canaan can only benefit from gathering data and information from other school districts that are changing start times, such as Greenwich. Additional factors include student learning. Some of the districts that changed start time shave run into problems with high school kids getting to afterschool athletics, Luizzi said, where kids are pulled out of classes in the afternoon to get to competitions on time.

“So the cost-benefit is more than financial—students in classes, that is our core mission and that is a very high cost to pay, so we really want to talk to the board and community about whether that is the right approach,” he said.

Asked how specific he expected the recommendations or options to be presented in the spring to be, Luizzi said they would be more general and “goal-oriented.”

“We [administrators] would get direction from the board based on their insight and then ‘operationalize’ that direction,” Luizzi said.

A final decision about starting school later or not would not be reached in the spring, “but in the spring we would—based on, say, ‘our goal is to do X’—if that is changing start times or maintaining them or doing something else, we would then go back and spend hours and time and energy to work up to that measure,” he said. “It would be, ‘Here is where we are and here is where to go next.’ ”

Luizzi in the past has said that a working committee that includes not only NCPS administrators but also parents and Board of Ed members may form to help study the prospect of starting school later. Asked whether forming that group still is a thought, he said yes, that it could come in the next phase after the school board decides whether to make a change.

6 thoughts on “District Rules Out Later School Start Times for 2018-19 Academic Year

  1. The lack of urgency on the part of Dr Luizzi is disappointing. You have a community of active and supportive people who need you to engage with this issue sooner than a year from now.

  2. If I am reading the Superintendent’s comments correctly, he and his small group of non-board members will be deciding if the health of our students is really worth the cost of busing and ultimate disruption of athletics. It is clear that starting school later to benefit the health of our teen community will be disruptive and more than likely cost more money. I would respectfully ask the Superintendent to accept the overwhelming evidence of the benefits to a teen obtaining more sleep and work on a solution. Our BOE should then support the Superintendent and use their expertise to effectuate the plan. To place costs above the health of our kids would be major setback for the New Canaan public school system. Schools districts throughout the country and in Connecticut are working to provide this to their students. Many of those districts are finding the money because they know how important the issue is to their community. We are one of the best school districts in the country with overachieving children who work hard to obtain the best education we can offer. It would be a mistake to be on the wrong side of this issue. If I am looking at a School district and one is supporting a healthy environment and one is not, the choice is pretty easy.

  3. This is so disappointing. Shouldn’t this decision include input from the community? And shouldn’t the health of our teenagers be paramount to anything else? I will be at the BOE meeting next week.

  4. I applaud the superintendent, district, and BOE for taking all steps necessary to analyze the costs versus the benefits of a change such as this. While some, like Mr. Rucci, do not place a dollar value on the sleep patterns of our teenagers, others in the community do. While Hartford is struggling and the town has been grappling with stagnant real estate values and inflating budgets for over a decade, financial cost is absolutely a factor in making this decision. We also have yet to see the effect on our real estate from the new federal tax law as it relates to interest and property tax deductions. New Canaan, as a town, should be looking for ways to reduce the overall budget and keep people like empty nesters in town. The schools need to tread lightly before pricing out that category of resident, especially since they are not using the schools. Many other residents simply may not be able to stomach another tax increase. It’s elitist to think “whatever the costs, just do it.” However, if this is an important issue, perhaps we need to find other places to make cuts (alternative high school, new athletic facilities, teacher benefits, etc, etc.). By delaying the action, it is not a “no” but rather, a sensible way to figure out how to prioritize this in our community. If we are going to spend money, maybe it’s better spent on programs at school as opposed to additional buses and drivers.

    Finances aside, there are also other social costs that need to be weighed if this policy is implemented, such as the possible effect this could have on other schools’ schedules within the district (bus scheduling, driver scheduling, etc.). There are also scheduling issues with athletic events out of town held in districts that still adhere to earlier start times.

    There are other districts in the country that took years and several studies to decide to change their start times, and the jury is still out as to whether or not it made a difference.

    I just don’t know how we can make a decision until ALL of the costs are even known. Currently many people are acting by emotion and the district is right for putting the brakes on this in an objective manner. Until this is properly vetted and all costs are made public, the district is right for understanding this is a change that does not occur in a vacuum. They are right for viewing this from the perspective of all town constituents. I would hate to see us shoot first, and ask questions later on an issue such as this.

    • Mr. Russo, I appreciate your comments. Our community could not function without all of our resident’s interests being represented, especially those whose families have lived here and contributed to what makes this town so great. My family has been in Town since 1940 and Staying Put is one of the most important organizations in Town. My point is that money needs to be secondary as it relates to teen health within the BOE budget. Health and safety should be the priority and other areas of spending would need to likely be cut. We must be creative and that is where we should be spending the money, rather than on studies which have already been done. I believe the Superintendent and BOE have the ability to do this and I don’t want them focused on why they can’t do it. You have hit on some of strategies and I encourage you to continue to be a part of the conversation to find a solution. We would welcome your thoughts moving forward and ask that you visit the website and join the conversation.

  5. I urge our superintendent and BOE to learn from our neighbors who have made later start times a priority and reaped the benefits. The League of Women Voters of New Canaan jumpstarted the process of studying this issue in 2006 and it appears we are no further along. I challenge the administration to define the concerns and financial implications so that we can leverage our collective talent, brainstorm creative ideas and present a cost-efficient solution for their consideration. Kudos to Bar Rucci and Karen Willett for taking the lead and coordinating efforts to reduce sleep deprivation once and for all. Our students deserve better and we can make it happen!

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