A committee of about 30 people from the district, town government and wider community will convene in October as the Board of Education pursues a plan that would see New Canaan High School start nearly one hour later than it now does.
Scheduled to launch Oct. 21, about one year later than originally planned, the committee will include Board of Education workers such as administrators, teachers and secretaries, as well as parents and representatives from the Town Council and community groups such as the New Canaan YMCA, New Canaan CARES and New Canaan Chamber of Commerce, according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi.
“And then we are also going to invite a few folks who from the last year expressed an interest in this, they have stepped forward to communicate with the Board of Ed, to speak at the meetings, to be a part of things,” Luizzi said during an update at the Board of Education’s Aug. 19 meeting, held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.
“Because what we really want to do is have a wide-ranging committee that is led by a facilitator who has worked with our district before in order to build a baseline understanding of why we do what we do, and then look at what the scenario is that is being presented and have a brainstorming session, as well.”
Presented with several options for further study, the Board of Ed at its June meeting favored a scenario that would see all three elementary schools beginning at 7:45 a.m. all of Saxe Middle School beginning at 9:05 a.m. and NCHS starting at 8:20 a.m.—50 minutes later than the current 7:30 a.m. start time.
Though the plan has garnered praise from some of those who have cited established health data in advocating for later start times for adolescents, it also raised concerns among some parents of younger children.
One of those, Krista Neilson, a mother of two kids at East School who addressed the Board of Ed during the public comments period of the meeting, said that while she supported starting the high school later, she hoped that that could be accomplished in a way that “works for all the grade levels and all the families in this town.”
“I don’t want this to turn into an either-or conversation,” Neilson said.
She noted that her husband, who commutes to New York City for work, wanted to be at the meeting but could not get there in time, “which means he also won’t be able to be home for the 7 p.m. bedtime for my children which would required for them to be up and ready for school, for 7:45 in the morning.”
“And that means he probably wouldn’t see his kids Monday through Friday, which is an unfortunate side effect of the current proposal,” she said. “And I have to believe that we are not the only family like this in New Canaan. I mean, this is a commuter town. I have no idea what the statistics are but I imagine a lot of school-age children have parents or at least one parent that commutes to New York City.”
Since it was formally proposed at a public meeting two years ago, the idea of changing school start times has been divisive. A survey sent out to middle- and high-school students, parents and guardians, school staff and community members was inconclusive, according to results shared at a presentation in June. Board of Ed said at the time that they are not in complete agreement on whether they’re ready to give district administrators guidance.
Because the favored scenario would require more buses, it would come at an increased cost— $350,000 to $450,000 annually—over the current three-tier busing system. Should the Board of Ed move forward with such a scenario, that cost would be reflected in its proposed spending plan, as early as the upcoming budget season for fiscal year 2021.
Luizzi noted that district officials are continue to “work through” the tricky logistics of figuring out how it might re-route buses to accommodate a new system that would see 300-plus kindergartners picked up at an earlier time. By the time the committee meets for the first time with a facilitator that has worked in the district before, he said, administrators hope to have “more concrete information to share.”
Luizzi said the goal is for committee members to start with a shared baseline understanding and to study the favored scenarios pros and cons.
“We continue to receive emails from folks urging change and urging caution, and all between, and that is good,” he said.
Neilson in addressing the Board of Ed referred to an Aug. 6 letter she had sent to Luizzi and the Board. Obtained by NewCanaanite.com through a public records request, the letter says that starting the elementary schools at 7:45 “attempts to solve one problem by creating another problem of equal or greater magnitude.” She lists four ways that the proposal will negatively affect younger kids, including forcing parents to extend the children’s days by putting them in after-school care for longer, depriving elementary school-aged kids of sleep, reducing the amount of time the members of families with young kids can spend with each other and risking diminished academic performance among those students.
“I urge you to find a solution that does not sacrifice the needs of our youngest students for the needs of our eldest,” Neilson wrote.