This week our Town Council has the difficult and unenviable task of advising the Board of Education on this year’s budget. One that contains the controversial addition of a start time initiative that has been conveyed to many as simply “later start times for high school students.”
In actuality, we are not removing early start times at all.
Our tax dollars would be going to swap “too early for high school” start times with our youngest elementary school children. Giving our youngest children the dubious honor of having the earliest elementary school start times in all of Connecticut, an hour earlier than other top ranked schools.
So, is this swap worth more than $1 million this year and hundreds of thousands of dollars each year going forward? I contend that not only is it not worth it, but we could be doing greater harm to our elementary schoolchildren than any benefit received by high school students.
Here are some reasons:
- Advocates of this plan often claim that medical research indicates a need for adolescents to get a recommended amount of sleep. But they appear to neglect those very same sleep tables which dictate recommended sleep for elementary school children (“Recommended Sleep for Pediatric Populations” from AAP American Academy of Pediatrics and the AASM American Academy of Sleep Medicine). I contend that sleep is important for all children. Younger children often have not developed the ability to recognize or deal with sleep deprivation, frustrating easily and acting out.
- Academic research based on more than 300,000 elementary schoolchildren also exists on swapping high school and elementary school times, warning of potential academic and behavioral issues.
- Of the towns that have recently changed their start times including Greenwich, Westport and Norwalk, none have “swapped” their high school and elementary school start times. Some have specifically indicated that they considered swapping times but decided against it over elementary school student sleep and safety concerns.
- It also remains unclear as to the actual benefit to high school students. How many high schoolers drive to school and how many may schedule around 1st period classes? Both surveys and petitions seem to indicate that high school students themselves do not want the change, with some indicating that they would likely just go to sleep later. Parents might argue for giving high school students the time and letting them decide whether to use it. However, giving high school students this option comes at the expense of depriving sleep for up to 1,500 elementary school children.
- Proponents of this plan have indicated that because some elementary school staff have said that “some kids seem more alert in the morning” this should negate all the research, precedent and concerns above. How many teachers did they ask? What did you ask them? What did they say? Based on these unsubstantiated comments they have claimed that morning is “Optimal Learning Time”, when there is no research that time of day has anything to do with young children’s learning ability.
Our top-ranked school district remains a primary draw for new families providing support to our dropping property values. Does it really make sense for us to make such a drastic change to our educational system, literally flipping it upside down? And paying more than $1 million just this year to do so?
With so many varying family situations and what appears to be, at best, an unclear benefit to swapping times why don’t we present the facts and have a simple Yes/No town vote or referendum, as some other towns do. Parents of schoolchildren would get a vote, the community members get a vote and high school students, who would be most affected, get a vote. I contend that a town vote would be the fairest and clearest way to find a resolution or at least provide the Town Council even greater clarity on what the town really wants.