The medical professionals at a well-established pediatric practice in New Canaan support efforts to re-examine start times in the school district and have advocated for starting later in the morning, according to information presented Monday night to the Board of Education.
The four doctors at New Canaan Pediatrics LLC told the school board said that communities with later start times “have shown increased academic performance, reported decreased mood disorders and experienced significantly reduced automobile accident rates in teens,” according to a letter that a local parent advocating for later start times read out at the group’s regular meeting.
Evidence in support of later school start times “includes both the unique biologic needs of adolescents and the demonstrable health and safety benefits realized by communities that have later start times,” according to the letter, read by Karen Willett.
“In our practice we clearly see a trend of teenagers from neighboring communities with later start times reporting more sleep than those from communities, like New Canaan, that have earlier start times. We understand that the practical hurdles to changing existing start times are significant but the compelling benefit to our children and the community in general makes the change to a later start time for middle school and high school students worth it. Thank you for your efforts.”
Those efforts in examining the prospect of starting school later have been underway since last year, officials have said, as district administrators have worked with a contracted consulting firm to examine what a change would involve. The district has ruled out the possibility of making a change for the next academic year, saying it would be imprudent given how widely consequential starting school later would be for the whole community. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi has said he expects administrators to supply information to the Board of Ed in the spring, at which point the question would be open to a public hearing.
Willett, mom to a Saxe Middle School sixth-grader and kindergartener at West School, was one of several parents who urged the Board of Ed at a meeting last month to work toward later school start times. She oversees a website, Start School Later New Canaan.
The physicians who signed the letter included Dr. Eva Grunberg, Dr. Alyssa Newman, Dr. Maria Ieni and Dr. William Flynn, according to Willett, who addressed the school board at Monday night’s meeting during a public comments section. The meeting was held in the Wagner Room at New Canaan High School.
“It is also worth noting how easy it was to get these signatures and also signatures from all of the doctors at New England Pediatrics and any other pediatrician we could find in New Canaan,” Willett said. “And similarly, the parents in Ridgefield and Westport gathered signatures from ever pediatrician practicing in those towns, as well.”
Willett also noted that Princeton Public Schools in New Jersey recently decided to push its high school start time back to 8:20 a.m. That district is ranked number one in New Jersey and 155 nationally, Willett said.
“In other words I think it is safe to say that the district is similar to ours and the kids there face similar pressures,” she said.
Board of Ed members did not respond to her comments.