Letter: Earlier School Start Times for New Canaan Students

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Perhaps many have heard the New Canaan Board of Education touting its plan for later school start times for students and how it would be a great win for “our” students.

More sleep for our children sounds like a great thing, right?

What Board of Ed members don’t mention is that it would be solely at the expense of our youngest children (and about $1 million in tax dollars). The current plan they are trying to push through is attempting to give high school students an additional hour of sleep by taking away one hour and 20 minutes from most elementary school children. This would represent the earliest elementary school start time in all of Connecticut and an average of one hour earlier than the other schools. If 7:30 a.m. is way too early a start for High School students, than many concerned parents contend that 7 a.m. would be an unacceptable time for 5-year-olds to be standing in the dark for their school bus. 

Other successful school districts such as ours appear to understand the importance of sleep during the crucial elementary school learning years and have factored that into their plans. The table below provides average elementary school start times at the top ranked school districts in Connecticut, averaging a full hour later than the board’s current proposal. This includes some school districts that have reviewed and changed their schedules to allow for later High School start times, but was able to maintain reasonable elementary school start times for their children.

Elementary School Start Times, Top Districts in CT (Niche.com)

RankDistrictStart TimeAvg. Time Lost for Students
1Westport*8:30 a.m. (current), 9 a.m. (proposed)45 mins (1.25 hours proposed)
2New Canaan7:45 a.m. proposed
3Glastonbury8:25 to 8:50 a.m.55 mins
4Amity Regional No. 5N/AN/A
5Darien8:30 to 9 a.m.1 hour
6Weston8:30 a.m.45 mins
7Farmington8:45 a.m.1 hour
8Wilton*9 a.m. (K-2)1.25 hours
9Fairfield8:55 a.m. (10 schools), 8:10 a.m. (1 school)> 1 hour
10West Hartford*8:35 a.m. (current), 8:40/8:45 a.m. (proposed)50 mins (1 hour proposed)
11Ridgefield8:35 a.m. (3 schools), 9:10 a.m. (3 schools)> 1 hour
12Greenwich*8:45 a.m. (8 schools), 8:15 a.m. (3 schools)avg 50 mins
Source: James Yao
* Denotes schools that have already changed or are proposing schedules for later high school start times

 

The change in elementary school start times may also affect the town and its businesses, as town schedules will no longer be in line with neighboring towns. Town clubs, activities and classes may face the difficult option of starting earlier to accommodate the earlier bed times of our elementary school children, excluding participants from any other town, or keeping their current schedules and losing town kids who need to be home to get their required sleep. This can also make New Canaan more insular and less of a presence in the area, since other towns and businesses are unlikely to change their club and class schedules to accommodate our earlier start times students could be significantly underrepresented in any town outside of our own.   

Additional School Districts That Neighbor New Canaan

DistrictElementary School Start TimeAvg Time Lost for Students
New Canaan7:45 a.m. (proposed)
Stamford8:30 a.m. (current), 9 a.m. (proposed)45 mins, 1.25 hours proposed
Norwalk8 to 9:15 a.m. (current), 8:37 a.m. avg (proposed)52 mins
Pound Ridge, N.Y.9 a.m.1.25 hours
Source: James Yao

 

The Board of Education has also been citing research in an attempt to support its decision. Members have noted that their high school students are not getting the 8-9 hours of sleep that is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC, but seldom acknowledge that those same studies recommend 3-4 hours more sleep for little 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds. The Board may also have overlooked the fact that young elementary school children require more time to get ready in the morning or that they are not as self -sufficient or independent as High School students. Therefore, a 7 a.m. bus would likely mean waking young children at 6 a.m. when it is dark for much of the school year. 

It appears that after over two years of research the Board has arrived at a schedule that the town and stakeholders not only do not support, but are most strongly opposed to. The evidence of this lies in two separate surveys which were done, likely at no small taxpayer expense. The first survey was done and completed the middle of last year by Hanover Research, an independent outside firm. This survey of more than 3,200 stakeholders may have been heavily skewed in favor of NCHS and Saxe Middle School students, as they potentially get two votes for each student, (the student and the parent) while elementary school kids only get the parents vote. The result is that elementary school respondents are actually weighted to represent only 19% of the non-staff respondents. However, despite this the strongest opposition was clearly for this current option to deprive elementary school kids of their needed sleep. Perhaps the Board has not given our High School students the credit they deserve for managing their own time or have discounted their compassion for the little children they see around town. I think it says a lot about the towns top rated school system and the capable and compassionate citizens it has continued to produce for many years.

The results appeared clear from the Hanover Survey that the thousands of respondents were not in favor of taking sleep from elementary school kids. However, the board commissioned another survey in October of last year, just two months prior to their decision. The results came back clearly reaffirming the initial survey findings. When respondents were provided three clear schedule options the current option was again the lowest scoring, least desirable alternative. Which brings to serious question why this is the alternative the board has arrived at.

There is definitely strong momentum for some significant change in high school start times, which many agree could help our high school students. However, there has also been meaningful pushback from elementary school parents concerned about the cost of the change being borne solely by their young elementary school children (in addition to the $1 million additional expense). These parents have noted the 3-4 additional hours of sleep required for their children and child safety, as buses may pick up their young children in the dark, despite the many definitions of dawn. 

The Board of Education has already passed a budget to accommodate the additional $1 million expense required for the change during the Jan. 21 Board meeting. However, the Board of Finance and Town Council still need to approve the budget. Although these entities cannot specifically prescribe how the funds are allocated, they can limit general funds available. Potentially of concern was one Board members question of the necessity of a new roof for East School, which is in year 25 of a 20-year maximum life and reported to already have meaningful warping and deformation. Some are concerned that the $1.2 million expense of this much needed overdue repair will be diverted to fund this unpopular new start time initiative. 

17 thoughts on “Letter: Earlier School Start Times for New Canaan Students

  1. Excellent letter. Let’s hope someone in a position of authority reads it and takes action. Letter supports my my long-standing and public contention that the costs and benefits of this proposed change for all stakeholders have not been considered. There is still time to stop this insanity.

    • Guess I didn’t get enough sleep (😴 ) found a typo in my post. Pls replace “state holders” with “stake holders” in next to last line of my post.

  2. New Canaan needs to be fiscally responsible NOW. Our housing market is in shambles and will only get worse when we hit the next recession. $1 mm to change school times is ridiculous and according to an article in the Advertiser, this cost is understated as the teacher collective bargaining agreement would open up if school times changed. Has anyone considered that we may lose good teachers as well? I am hearing this is a real concern. Lastly, the $10 mm to the library is absolutely absurd. Stop the spending now. People won’t move to our town if the taxes do nothing but go up!

    • The president of the teacher’s union has written to correct Mauro’s misinformation about the time change resulting in a renegotiation: “The information in this article is incorrect. That part of the contract language refers to number and length of day. Time changes with no increase in the number of minutes, hours or days are not negotiable by the teachers.”

    • Yes, I definitely agree about our housing market really being hit hard and our current top ranked school system has definitely been helping support our property values. Why would we risk one of the primary draws for new families to our town? Potentially developing a generation of young frustrated learners does not bode well for the future of our towns educational system. And higher taxes on top of that? That seems like a lose lose for any perspective family looking for a new home.

  3. I agree with this letter wholeheartedly! It is ridiculous to send these littlest ones off to school in the dark. Teens aren’t the only ones who benefit from more sleep, but all children. Also, the littlest ones will be home earlier which will be a huge problem and expense for working parents who will have to pay for more childcare. And the increase for busing? Ridiculous. I would rather have the new Library which will be a huge asset to town and have that
    $1 million go towards that building. I can’t figure out how the sports schedules will work, either, when our High School teams are a whole hour behind everyone else. Can’t wait to hear how much easier it will be to wake those teens up in the morning. You know they’ll just stay up later.

  4. “What Board of Ed members don’t mention is that it would be solely at the expense of our youngest children.” This is simply not true that the change is at the expense of young children. This plan takes the whole child into account. Our children are not either young or teens – they are both, at different times. The plan moves elementary school times earlier, which is more appropriate for the sleep cycles of young children, and middle and high school times later, which is more appropriate for older children. With this new schedule, a child starting in K next year will be better off over the course of their 13 years of school than they would be with the current schedule. The BOE has very much taken into account the impact across the life of a child.
    As for the cost, it would be great if we could do this for free, just like it would have been great to remove the asbestos from the Saxe Auditorium for free. Did the BOF and the Town Council second-guess the medical community about the need to do that? The BOE has spent years trying to find the best, most cost-conscious solution. The BOE is doing this because it is the right thing to do – districts can no longer justify a school schedule that goes against all medical advice. The top districts in states all around the country have made this change and we are already trailing places like Silicon Valley and the top-performing districts in the suburbs of Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Princeton, NJ, Denver, and others. This is not a novel or unproven initiative.

  5. Stamford Middle School and High School are 7:20. Our elementary schools are 8:10 and later. Personally and developmentally I think it should be opposite. Younger kiddos tend to get up earlier.

    • Sorry but just want to clarify that I saw 10 Stamford elementary schools with 9:00AM start times and only 3 with 8:10 start times. I conservatively put 8:30. I agree that kids sometimes get up earlier than they should but my kids seldom get up when it’s still dark out and to be forced to do so every day really seems unfair for a 5 year old. Please let her be a child a little longer.

  6. I appreciate your point of view, we all want what’s best for our children. The effort to change school times has been a 3-year process, it has not been done with just 2 Hanover studies and without considerable thought. It is also something that has been accepted nationwide, including 5 districts around us who have moved their start times to provide their students with the optimal healthy learning environment. I’m sure you are unintentionally mis-stating the facts, but I wanted to clear some things up. With this new scenario, no child will be waiting in the dark for their bus. The average pick-up time will be 7:24 with no buses at 7am. The AAP recommends 9-12 hours sleep for 6-12yr olds, and 8-10 hours sleep for 13-18 year olds, so comparing the minimum for teens with the maximum for elementary is misleading. The research on adolescent sleep is clear that circadian rhythms change during adolescence, shifting their body clocks. They cannot usually fall asleep before 11pm, due to biology, so it’s not about managing their time better. However, younger children can biologically fall asleep much earlier. If you say that your child needs 12 hours of sleep, at the maximum end, then you should also acknowledge that your teen will need 10 hours of sleep. The BOE is diligently finding a way to give teens the minimum recommended 8 hours of sleep, without sacrificing elementary sleep. The 7:45 start is half an hour earlier than South currently (one third of elementary students). The early bird drop-off at West and East starts at 7:45 and many families use this program. There are plenty of families who support this change. The BOE is not focused on pleasing everyone, but on doing what is right for students. They are still evaluating the times and hope to move the first tier as close to 8am as possible. I would ask all those who are concerned about the costs to look at school start times as a public health issue, not a budget issue.

  7. As the author of the letter I fully support getting our high schoolers more sleep. Both My children will hopefully be there one day as well. But just not solely at the expense of our youngest learners. I was not attempting to mislead people regarding the required sleep times and was simply interpolating the times. If the range is 9 to 12 hours for 6 to 12 year olds than if you are on the younger side, like my 5 year old kindergartener you would be closer to the 12 range. High schoolers would be closer to the tail of the 13 to 18 range so I can see 8 or 9 hours. That was my logic and I think it makes sense. I think things are clearer with actual examples. My son is in 1st grade and the doctors recommend 12 hours of sleep for kids his age. If his bus pick up is 7:10. I don’t think it unreasonable to need an hour to get a kindergartner and 1st grader ready, so he and his sister would need to sleep at 6:10 to be up at 6:10. He wrestles with the town club and practice runs from 5:30 to 6:45 (there is a room full of other elementary school kids with him). He finishes practice with his sister by his side, since she cannot be left home alone and he cannot drive. Home by 7:10 where they are fed dinner and then rushed through baths and a book by 830, if we are lucky. That would mean losing 2 to 3 hours of sleep from what would be recommended. I am not sure how to get around that. Please also recall that children that young do not deal with sleep deprivation well, often not recognizing it but instead act out or frustrate easily as they are just learning to deal with emotions and self regulation. If you can convince our town and neighboring towns to shift all their activities up that would be great, but otherwise would like an alternate solution. Like I said I am in favor of more time for high schoolers, just not purely at the expense of our youngest. High Schoolers + 1 hour of sleep and Elementary schoolers up to an 1 hour and 20 mins less sleep.

  8. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Yao. It verges on cruel to take sleep away from the youngest children in our school system to achieve an outcome for our teens. It is disingenuous and simply untrue to assume one can simply shift sleep times for small children. There are no proper studies backing this theory. The proposed changes rely on anecdotal evidence and heresy regarding early start times for elementary aged students. The only actual study that exists, out of University of Kentucky, points to ill impacts on elementary students with an earlier start time. Why would we spend $1 mil to make our youngest lab rats? I support proper sleep for teens, but not at the expense of our youngest. And that is not to mention the impact on quality time with family — many working parents have pointed out that in order to meet proper sleep requirements under an earlier school start time some children would go Monday to Friday without seeing their children. At the public hearing held on Jan 13, one mother pointed out, with emotion, that if it’s a mental health crisis in teens we are talking about surely young children who are no longer able to see parents M-F with be facing a mental health challenge. Children need time with their parents. Full stop. We need to find a solution which accommodates the needs of ALL OF OUR CHILDREN.

  9. I have 4 kids, youngest in kindergarten. This will be a 30 minute change for us if start time moves to 7:45am. My kindergartener is the first one up in my house. To me, South School is lucky to have the earlier start time. It is part of the reason I bought a house in South district. The elementary teachers support the change because they believe the young kids are brighter in the morning. After school activities will be able to shift earlier if all 3 elementary schools are on the same schedule (currently we “wait” for West and East kids). This “ripple” could allow middle school sports to start earlier too so that those kids don’t have to be on the fields until 9pm. It’s really tough to get off a field at 9pm and then have a 7:30am start time for middle schoolers. Many of the high schools in our area have moved to later starts so it will actually be more aligned for games after school.

  10. James – I think a lot of the misinformation in your letter has been addressed by others. I appreciate your update that you didn’t intend to mislead with stating earlier pickup times than planned, etc. Also it is important to note that the BOE is currently working with a consultant to push back the start times closer to 8am. I just wanted to share a different perspective and additional info on some of your comments. School starts right now at 7:30 for all children ages 13-18 in our community – so it’s sadly not only those at the “older” end of the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep. It’s also important to note that the elementary school early bird programs already begin at 7:45am and many families participate. My 3rd grader is also in the wrestling program. Practice is only two days a week from Dec-Feb. He does homework, reads and eats dinner those two nights before practice and gets home, showers and reads 10 more minutes before bed. He would be fine with a 7:45am start time (I should note that we are at South so it’s a small adjustment from what we already do). Hopefully many elementary activities can move earlier so first graders can easily participate and not have to wait a year or two until they move away from the maximum sleep requirement. Understand your family needs may be different but in ours where we have three children very close in age, we’ve never needed close to a full hour even when they were in kindergarten to get ready for school. I love the idea of my children being able to learn at an optimal time and have playtime after school. Our family applauds the work of Dr. Luizzi and the BOE and we feel the proposed times are healthy at all ages. Understand many feel differently but my family is one of many who is happy with the proposal. Additionally, the cost to us is very worthwhile considering the positive benefit it will have on the health of so many students.

    • Anne – I appreciate your perspective, but I really did not try and mislead the start time, I don’t think I need to mislead anyone here. I may have mentioned 7:00AM as opposed to the 7:06AM first bus pick up. So apologies if I was not clear there. I am not sure what additional misinformation you are referring to. I simply stated that this time would represent the earliest start time for any elementary school in all of Ct. and approximately an hour before both top ranked schools and schools in our area (providing the data). I don’t think there has been any contention there. But if I am off please let me know as I am happy to correct. Apologies about the reference to 8-9 hours as opposed to 10 hours, as I was focusing on High School students, which appeared to be the target of this initiative. I am not sure how many families participate in the Early bird, program, but that would be great to know. But I honestly did not factor in the number of HS kids who drive themselves to school either, which would be very helpful information as well.
      I also stated that we may be out of synch with other town schedules, isolating our elementary school children from surrounding towns. I know I use wrestling as an example since that is what my son does, but he is on the travel team and he has practice 3 times a week, although one is on Friday until 7:30, where he finishes exhausted. Yes, he can definitely do homework in the afternoon, but to feed him dinner before intense exercise is generally not a good idea and he does need a shower and wind down. But please look at other sports programs and clubs around, I think you will find many don’t end until at least 6:00, which would make it impossible to get the recommended amount of sleep. As for the results of the Hanover Survey and the additional survey I think I have been accurate in saying that the current option to move our youngest to 7:45AM so that HS students could get an 8:3oAM start was the mostly strongly opposed option or the survey biased against elementary schools was incorrect. But again, please let me know if I am reading the survey incorrectly. The second survey also seemed pretty clear that when this current alternative was offered as 1 of 3 it was the lowest scoring. Don’t think I could have misread that, but again please correct me if I am wrong.
      If you got your kids ready and out in less than an hour when they were very young, kudos to you, no seriously. But I personally don’t want my children to be jostled up when it is completely dark out and rushed through the morning as fast as possible. That is something I deal with as an adult as I skip breakfast and speed off to catch the train. It is something I would like to put off for my 5 year old if I can.
      I have also received some comments regarding this proposal not being solely at the expense of elementary school children. Some have stated it is good for all students, but I am not sure how it is better for my child to lose an hour and twenty minutes of sleep every night. Faced with the extensive research on recommended sleep for elementary age school children I am having trouble negating that with the anecdotal evidence that says children seem to have better focus in the morning. Again, this might just be a young child’s ability to focus for extended periods of time and nothing to do with the time of day. I hope you can at least acknowledge that 5, 6 and 7 year olds cannot identify or deal with sleep deprivation nearly as effectively as a teenager and that a good foundation for learning needs to be established at an early age. Sorry in advance to the readers for the length of the reply.