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)
|Rank||District||Start Time||Avg. Time Lost for Students|
|1||Westport*||8:30 a.m. (current), 9 a.m. (proposed)||45 mins (1.25 hours proposed)|
|2||New Canaan||7:45 a.m. proposed|
|3||Glastonbury||8:25 to 8:50 a.m.||55 mins|
|4||Amity Regional No. 5||N/A||N/A|
|5||Darien||8:30 to 9 a.m.||1 hour|
|6||Weston||8:30 a.m.||45 mins|
|7||Farmington||8:45 a.m.||1 hour|
|8||Wilton*||9 a.m. (K-2)||1.25 hours|
|9||Fairfield||8:55 a.m. (10 schools), 8:10 a.m. (1 school)||> 1 hour|
|10||West Hartford*||8:35 a.m. (current), 8:40/8:45 a.m. (proposed)||50 mins (1 hour proposed)|
|11||Ridgefield||8:35 a.m. (3 schools), 9:10 a.m. (3 schools)||> 1 hour|
|12||Greenwich*||8:45 a.m. (8 schools), 8:15 a.m. (3 schools)||avg 50 mins|
* 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
|District||Elementary School Start Time||Avg Time Lost for Students|
|New Canaan||7:45 a.m. (proposed)|
|Stamford||8:30 a.m. (current), 9 a.m. (proposed)||45 mins, 1.25 hours proposed|
|Norwalk||8 to 9:15 a.m. (current), 8:37 a.m. avg (proposed)||52 mins|
|Pound Ridge, N.Y.||9 a.m.||1.25 hours|
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.