Op-Ed: School Start Times—a Decision We Didn’t Want To Make

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Thursday’s Town Council vote on the school budget will determine whether school start times will change next year to improve student health. It’s a decision we never wanted to make. 

It was thought the controversy might be resolved before the Town Council got involved. 

Just maybe, we thought, the Board of Education would back down after being confronted by opponents and after learning how disruptive the change would be. But student health was the BOE’s first priority and they forged ahead. 

Just maybe, a group of dissenting elementary school parents would sour people on the proposal, as their schedules could be the most severely affected. But they endorsed an 8:00 am start time for elementary schools compared to 7:50 am in the BOE proposal—a mere 10-minute difference. Only a handful of dissidents spoke against the BOE budget at Tuesday night’s public hearing compared to 43 who spoke in favor. Many more elementary school parents spoke for the change than against it. 

Just maybe, before the school budget came to the Town Council, the Board of Finance would reduce it so severely that start time changes would be impossible. But they didn’t. The BOF explicitly approved funding for the changes. 

Just maybe, the economic crisis would compel us to make a major cut. But we’re told by the Board of Finance that we have more effective ways of managing the town’s risk, including a $30 million reserve and the option to defer capital projects costing millions more. At this time, cutting $1 million from the school budget simply isn’t necessary to ensure that the town can pay its bills. If that changes, our approach can change. 

Just maybe, the school budget would drive up the property tax rate, so we’d have to cut for that reason. But as it happens, even if start time changes are funded, the mill rate will increase very little, if at all. 

Just maybe, the school district would find other savings so that start time changes could proceed even with a $1 million cut. But the message from school leaders is loud and clear: Start time changes won’t happen if we cut $1 million. That’s not just gamesmanship. School leaders legitimately believe that savings of that magnitude aren’t possible without jeopardizing educational quality. 

Just maybe, in the town survey, the majority of residents would demand that we cut school funding in order to lower taxes. But the survey results didn’t show that. 

So here we are, exactly where we didn’t want to be. No Town Council member is against student health, yet none of us is happy that we have to decide the issue. 

Make no mistake, however. Thursday’s vote will decide whether start times are changed. Accordingly, it will decide whether we enhance students’ happiness, academic performance, and immunity from disease, and whether we reduce their risk of traffic accidents and mental illness. Like it or not, fair or not, it’s on us. 

This is one of those moments when we get to choose what we’re known for. 

Tom Butterworth is a member of—but does not speak for-—he New Canaan Town Council. 

48 thoughts on “Op-Ed: School Start Times—a Decision We Didn’t Want To Make

  1. Hi Tom. This is actually a pretty easy decision to make as this proposal is swapping one set of kids for another, and costing the town around $1m annually and increasingly to do it (if it was such an easy swap with all the benefits alleged and no downsides New Canaan would have done this years ago).
    Lets keep perspective – we have not had proper school in this town for 3 weeks come Thursday, and have a real prospect of no proper school until August 31st due to this crisis (what do we think the parents of the 4,000 kids in our town are doing to deal with this – I can assure you it is not normal life – and yes elearning is very different from proper school – especially when you have a 1st grader, a 4 year old and 2 year old all now home since the schools and day-cares have been closed).
    Look at the stock, job, and real estate market – look at what will come on pension liabilities for those lucky to have one (and employers who will need to fill the now larger funding gaps), and look at the town, state and country in essentially lock down for another month at a minimum. Look at the human toll for those who have lost a person or who are dealing with the disease – or trying to avoid it. To just proceed as if nothing has changed in the last month would be simply nuts. More cuts unfortunately will need to come on town spending as residents are seeing very significant impacts now, and this will continue for some time.
    If this all goes away and we return to ‘normal’, there is absolutely no reason changed school start times, and all the other non-essential projects proposed can’t be revisited next year – but now is not the time to spend money that could easily be saved. Waveny made the right call on their project considering the times we are living in and town feedback – and the Board of Education should have done the same with this. Now the Town Council needs to make the decision for them.

  2. For decades, New Canaan has produced 1000’s of successful graduates. Now is not the time to spend an optional $1Million of taxpayer money. Easy decision.

  3. When we first moved to town 15 years ago New Canaan first visited this option and voted it down. As a mother of a toddler preschooler and kindergartener I had no idea the impact it would have on my kids in the future, but was disappointed because our oldest got home at 4pm and play dates and afterschool activities were tough as he would bounce out of bed at 7 (at the latest) but by 4pm be exhausted. Fast forward to today my boys are nearly done with school but until this pandemic closed our schools and necessitated a later start time I had some idea the impact on their wellbeing but seeing the effects of more sleep is startling. It is easy to pass up this opportunity blaming the economic environment for why we will continue to put our childrens health and wellbeing second yet again. My hope is that the town council will look at the science and well documented proof that this is in the best interest of our teens even if it comes too late for most of my children, because it is the right thing to do.

  4. Thank you, Tom, for your thoughtful piece. We couldn’t agree more. I was so disappointed to hear some of the other TC members’ comments on Tuesday night. This IS an “easy decision.” The BOF has confirmed that our finances will be fine despite the current uncertainty and have already approved this budget! It has also been noted that a $1mm cut will not just affect start times but other aspects of school operation. People move here for the schools. We must support our schools. End of story. Thank you for all your work you do for our town.

    • Sarah – nobody doubts the good work our schools do. I suggest you have a look at jobless claims in this country over the last 2 weeks. The number is 10million I.e close to three times the entire population of Connecticut. I doubt many people can assure us or you as a family that we or you will be ok financially just carrying on with previous spending. We have to adjust as individuals, families and communities unfortunately – this million dollars saved costs us nothing in terms of additional jobs lost. More cuts will unfortunately need to be found and these will cost jobs and hurt the people impacted…

      • I was under the impression the tax increase was broken out for us during the meeting and when you spread that amount over all tax payers, it’s minimal.

  5. The BOE have shown tremendous leadership in being prepared for the current situation we all find ourselves in and we are so grateful for their preparation and that we have the resources necessary at hand. Similarly, they are showing the same commitment to our children in continuing to support the currently proposed budget which includes the change to school start times. I hope Town Council will support the BOE tonight so they can continue to be proactively prepared to meet the needs of all our children.

  6. Differentiate between supporting our schools — which everyone agrees with — and the inexorably increases in spending every year regardless of the economic environment. We have inflation in expenses and deflation in revenues (Grand List/home values). That is not sustainable. Would anyone manage a business or their personal finances and increase expenses every year while revenues are decreasing? That is what our town is doing.

    Research shows that far and away the largest driver of standardized test scores on which schools are family based. https://www.cga.ct.gov/2004/rpt/2004-R-0005.htm. Please read this link. It’s a non-partisan group.

    Please do some analysis of the BOE budget before coming to conclusions. Don’t we tell our kids to thoroughly research an issue objectively before determining a conclusion?

    • In the interest of listening to both sides of an argument, I’ve looked over your link, and besides the statements referring to the “attainment of parents education” and “single-parent households”, there doesn’t seem to be much here. Not to mention, its pretty dated. The most recent data on this is from the early 2000s, nearly 20 years ago. The medical reasearch supporting later start times for teens is current, and I believe should be paramount in this decision.

      • Kathy, you missed the research findings in this CT non-partisan study indicating that there is no correlation between spending per student and standardized test scores, on which our school rankings are largely based? You also find no relevance that around 80% of the variance in these scores are attributable to two factors: whether the child is coming from a single parent home and the educational attainment of the parents? An objective person might think this might be an indication that there are at least diminishing returns to incremental spending beyond a certain threshold, and then ask where any spending can have the highest return on investment. They would then compare to where we are spending now and challenge the prioritization, if justified.

        Here’s the bigger ethical question: if one believes that more spending equals better educational outcomes — as you seem to believe — shouldn’t they be fighting tooth and nail to make sure disadvantaged kids in cities like Bridgeport, New Britain, New Haven, Hartford, Waterbury, etc. have equal spending per student as affluent towns like New Canaan? Shouldn’t they pushing for more school choice enrollment for parents of kids coming from cities, like some of our surrounding towns do (Wilton, Weston, Fairfield, among others)?

  7. Our economy is reeling, we already had a bad economic backdrop in CT and now it is so much worse. People are losing incomes and wealth almost daily and the end of this decline is not clear.

    However, unlike the Board of Finance, the Town Council has an ability and responsibility to react to our new financial reality. I am not sure how any budget that was created prior to Covid-19 should look the same with this knowledge. To do so suggests that Covid-19 is not a big deal, or somehow, we will magically be “immune” from its financial consequences. Council members need to take a serious look at how this fiscal storm, which is just beginning, will affect our town and how we can be better prepared.
    After many years of budget growth, the BOE’s current proposed operating budget growth remains near 4%. That is well above the 1.5% guidance, CPI/inflation and other town agencies. So, this budget already appeared meaningfully greater than guided or expected. Of the proposed 4% increase for the upcoming year $1 million or nearly 1/3 of the increase would go to this controversial start time initiative to swap too early for High School start times with our Elementary schools. This is no time to spend $1 million to experiment with drastic and unpopular changes that do not offer direct and tangible benefit to our school system? At a minimum this initiative should be tabled in this environment and revisited next year, when hopefully families and our town can find their bearings and we can reassess this large spend. For the Town Council to blindly Rubber Stamp this budget in our current Covid-19 reality would seem very irresponsible.

    I encourage the Town Council to take stock of the situation we are all in and react accordingly. It is time to take a stand and not be guilted into rubber stamping another BOE budget, under the premise that you would otherwise be depriving children. I remind you that this $1 million plan would simply be swapping school times, so you would be giving sleep to our oldest children at the expense of our youngest ones, forcing 5 year olds to wake up in pitch darkness every morning with new bus pickups as early as 7:00 AM. Please do not turn a blind eye to what is going on around you or pretend that everything is as it was. I encourage all the council members to apply common sense and do the right thing.

    • James– this is perfectly put. It seems like hubris to go glibly on, spending outrageously in the face of a VERY different economic reality for a lot of New Canaan families and businesses. As the start times solution that was arrived at seems incomplete at best, I think the imperative should be to wait, give ourselves a year to find a better solution, and thank ourselves for our fiscal prudence in the face of a recession.

  8. My understanding is that the Board of Finance chair is confident in the town’s reserves and remains secure in that board’s decision to approve the BOE budget. I hope the Town Council feels it can trust its BOF analysis. Given that parents see so much town spending elsewhere (new library, town properties), it is frustrating, to put it mildly, to witness the hand-wringing over a relatively smaller amount that would prioritize our children’s health needs.

    The statistics from the 2020 Residential Satisfaction Survey show that 72% of respondents chose this town for the school system. We have four neighboring districts that have changed start times to meet medical guidelines, or are in the process of doing so: Wilton, Greenwich, Norwalk, and Westport. Wouldn’t it make sense, particularly in uncertain financial times, to prioritize funding our greatest return on investment?

  9. We moved to New Canaan almost 20 years ago for the schools. We have two 12 year olds in 6th grade at Saxe. As a former NYC elementary classroom teacher, I have been more than impressed with our education system and most recently with the swift and thorough planning by the BOE to setup e-learning during this crisis. I trust their judgement and expertise when it comes to the academic health of our children and fully support the budget changes to adjust school start times. Thank you to the Town Council for your work with the town of New Canaan.

  10. It is ironic, inconsistent and downright foolish that we as a society would faithfully follow the CDC’s Guidelines per this virus and then completely disregard their guidance on sleep health for middle and high school students. Smart decisions are made on science, facts and data points. The science of sleep should prevail.

    • Yes, it should prevail for all kids, not just some.

      And there is plenty of room within a $90,000,000+ budget to do that for all kids if the BOE decided to prioritize it ahead of a number of areas of bloat in their that don’t lead to better educational outcomes. But instead they decided to pass the political football and stated this “CDC priority” is the first thing they would cut if there operating budget was only up, say 2.5% instead of 4%. I think many of us would like to live on the planet where our expenses would be subsidized up 2.5%+ this year, much less 4%. There were over 6.5 million initial jobless claims this last week. Prior to the previous week the highest in history was around 650,000 in one week around thirty years ago. If one doesn’t believe in fiscal restraint just come out and be transparent about it.

    • I would hope as well that we would look at the science for all our students. As well as the science in performance of too early start times for elementary. Agree on the science but let’s look at all of it.

  11. Tom first let me say that I appreciate all of the time and effort that you and all of our town officials selflessly give on behalf New Canaan citizens. That said I find your hand wringing in this op-ed off putting. Did you not understand when you ran for public office that part of your duty would be to make tough decisions and not just “rubber stamp” based on polls? Compared to some of the other recent decisions The Town Council has had to make this vote seems to be an easy one. Given our current circumstance it’s illogical to vote to spend a million dollars on this folly. When schools do come back the town needs to return to “normal”. This does not mean also having to adjust to new start times and traffic patterns. Much of scientific basis cited for the proposed change is from The CDC. At this point how much does anyone trust information from The CDC? I urge you to vote no for this additional funding. Again thank you for your service.

    • I don’t see how 3 years of research by the BOE, months of public meetings with the BOE, subsequent scrutiny and approval from the BOF, and ample time and ability for public comments in their forum could be characterized as “rubber stamping”?

      • Rob, Please visit the BOE website, which is supposed to house the research. There a fair amount of research posted on the need for High School students to get more sleep, as if that were all we were talking about here. Please direct me to any research on the site that considers the earliest start times in all of Ct for elementary school kids, or the affects of sleep deprivation on their learning. I have personally provided research on the perils of this plan and it has not been posted to my knowledge, but perhaps it will after the vote tonight.
        Many parents did not even know about this plan until it was provided via email earlier this year. And none of the surveys would have indicated that this would be the alternative chosen. Actually many would read from the surveys indicated quite the opposite. Also, how can a plan be considered well thought out, when you do not price out any other alternative?

        • James,
          I’ve watched you at several meetings with prints outs and direct people to research and websites as you did above yet you never seem to call out what specifically you object to….on the flip side, all of the research you do happen to reference has led the BOE and BOF to propose the change in start times. Are you suggesting the folks on those Boards don’t know what they’re doing?

          It would be really helpful since you seem to be one of the very few folks that take to time to come to the meetings to “succinctly and specifically” layout out your top arguments for why you oppose the initiative as opposed to pointing people towards websites. I honestly still cannot tell what they are.

          • Wow, I really need to be more clear then. However, I think many people who have commented on this thread know my position. Just in case. “I am strongly opposed to having elementary kids start this early”. I am also opposed to the omission of facts when quoting studies, I am opposed to neglecting published research, I am opposed to spending $1 million on a plan that I feel actually harms many children.
            In regards to the research, I have provided them in a previous letter to the new Canaanite. I provided Sources Authors and names. You should be able to google them. But really wish you would have read them, because it really is relevant here.

  12. Thank you Tom for your thoughtfull and insightful Op-Ed. I am fully supportive of passing the BOE budget, which includes the funding necessary for later school start times. My head is spinning that this is still up for debate, as all of the evidence and research points to what is the best for our children. Medical research has repeatedly proven the benefits of later start times for teens, and our respected Dr. Flynn echos this support. In addition, the BOF has confirmed that the town’s finances will be fine and they have already approved the budget.
    I personally think there is no better time to rally and support our school administrators, staff, teachers and students. The pressure that they are under with eLearning is the toughest test we can hope they ever have to face. This school district was among the first (if not the first) in the state to be up and running with eLearning, and they have proven their utmost dedication to our children. Why would we want to deny them what they believe is the best for our children going forward? Why would we want to risk not being one of the top schools in the state?
    Regarding costs and the argument of our record of putting forth 1,000s of succesful graduates, I belive that we simply cannot afford now to NOT keep our school district at the top. If we do not spend the money now to do the right thing for our students, we will lag behind our neighboring districts that have already made this important decision. In our town survey, over 70%, of the respondents cite the schools as the reason they chose to move to New Canaan. If our schools do not maintain their competitive edge, people will simply chose to move elsewhere. Why would anyone chose a town that does not put the needs (based on sound medical research) first, when they can chose a nearby town that has made the right decision?
    Every argument against has been refuted, as is stated in the above Op-Ed. I urge the town council to support our schools and our children and listen to the overwhelming evidence and the residents of this town who came to the virtual town meeting on Tuesday (over 40 in favor, only 4 against) and pass the BOE budget in full, inclusive of funding for later school start times. The future of our children and our town depends on it.

    • Kathy – did you know we actually can’t put this to vote by the town due to a state of emergency declared by the Governor – I would be very curious if we could what that vote would be? You do also understand I presume that this is swapping start times not later for all – so let’s refer to it what it is – changed start times.

      • If you read it again, I commented on later start times for teens. Perhaps my closing paragraph did not reference teens specifically, but I believe we all know what we’re talking about.
        Also, I don’t believe I mentioned anything about putting this to a vote, so I’m not sure why you’re asking me about this.
        This issue has been thorougly researched by the BOE over the past 3 years. It is not something that has been taken lightly. Medical research has shown time and time again of the benefits of later start times for teens. I believe our BOE should be suppported in making the right decision. If not, we will fall behind our neighboring towns who have made this decision for the benefit of their students.

        • I think the issues we are dealing with now are much more basic unfortunately – I am still surprised that people have not yet come to realize this. Key questions now are how do we gets schools reopened (I presume people don’t think elearning is as effective as traditional school) – how do we safely get the economy going again and get people back to work – how do people make due with lost jobs, paychecks and savings.
          As a new resident (we moved here in July with three kids – 6, 4, and 2) I can assure you when schools started and ended had absolutely no bearing on which town we chose to live in.
          I brought up the issue of putting to a town vote as actually I was surprised to find out that we could not do this, so we don’t know really what the town thinks – despite well organized high school parents asserting that the town is fully supportive of this. Curtailing our ability to vote on this via referendum due to a decree by the Governor shows the amazing times we are living in, and in and of itself should give us pause on our pre-crisis spending plans.

          • Since you only moved here within the past year, you have not been aware of the hard work and research that has gone into this very important issue, and how long and hard the school board worked on this.
            People in this town have had ample opportunity to voice their opinions for and against this. I don’t believe that this is only “well organized high school parents” asserting anything. (And, for the record, I do not have children in the HS).
            And while you state that start times were not the reason you moved here, I’m sure the quality of the school system was one, if not the primary reason. If our schools do not remain on the cutting edge, I believe people will reconsider this town, when other towns are leading.
            Regarding the schools be reopened, that has nothing to do with this. The schools will reopen when it is safe to do so.

  13. Just maybe we shouldn’t forget the results of two surveys on start times specifically where parents supported sleep times for all but not the scenarios as presented.

    Just maybe we should remember the outpouring of parents – 32 in all who spoke on January 13th where the majority did not support the current scenario.

    Just maybe we should at least give heed to a petition of the community that do not agree with the current scenario.

    Just maybe we shouldn’t hold it against parents who aren’t comfortable publicly speaking and for sure with young children at home are completely overwhelmed and many if not most while working full time as well.

    Just maybe you as part of the Town Council should be upset to be put in this place by the Board of Ed, and not the parents, who presented the budget in this way. Technically you can reduce the budget and they can still move ahead with the planned scenario. To put the Town Council in this position should not be put on the parents who are only trying to support sleep times for all.

    The issue is not a 10 minute difference in start time but pick up time which in the latest scenario uses high school starting at 8:30 as a base with an increase of buses to meet an overall school budget allowance of $1MM (which is a one time savings). It is not guaranteed a 7:50 start time will work – that actually requires an earlier pick up time than another consultant proposed. It will require students to be in the dark. No students should be in the dark at any age. We also oppose 5/6 start at 9:15 which means many would not even get home until 4:30. What happens to after school opportunity including the well rounded after school program – can’t do it beforehand as we can’t have all the buses reach Saxe at once. If 9:15 according to our teachers who we esteem is too late for learning for elementary why isn’t it too late for our 5/6 graders?

    Let’s also be clear that Westport, Norwalk and Greenwich changed start times but did not swap for younger students – they all start between 8-9 with Greenwich being between 8 and 8:45.

    Let’s not cherry pick the facts but lay it all out. That should be the job when looking at the budget. And if you factor in current trajectory of the budget which will be around 6% and per the commentary published above is not sustainable. If we truly do zero based budgeting and sleep is a priority then we should do the work to determine the budget for the amount of buses needed to start between 8-9 which would also maintain our heroic teaching staff (which the current scenario assumes we will find savings in loss of teachers) and then make some hard decisions or adjustments within the rest of the budget.

    I believe we all hoped we wouldn’t be here.

    • 43 parents spoke in strong support of the BOE budget and funding the proposal to change school start times at the public hearing this week. And that is in comparison to only 5 who spoke against the budget in any way. You were one 0f only two people who spoke solely against the change to school start times. While you say that the “majority” of the 31 speakers who at the BOE hearing regarding the start time change spoke against; it would be more accurate to also state that the “majority” was 17 against and 14 for in that case. Not the overwhelming majority that the Town Council heard on Tuesday night. There are also many who have spoken in favor of this change at BOE meetings for years. It is very understandable that there are some very disappointed in the BOE decision that did not go their way. But I am surprised that anyone would be willing to insinuate that there are a lot of supporters out there, but they just couldn’t actually take the time that many families of elementary students did on Tuesday night. The ones who cared the most voiced their opinions – in an overwhelming majority. You join a few who continue to say that other towns were able to start all schools between 8-9am – but that would be extremely costly to do in New Canaan…and all over 10 minutes? This very much feels as if you are concerned about cost now since that is the best angle to get the decision you didn’t like overturned – but that is in conflict with being willing to advocate for spending millions over 10 minutes.

      • You nailed it Anne…precisely how the few folks that opposed have changed their angle. Let’s also not forget about the elementary school parents who spoke at the recent town council meeting in support of the changes.

  14. Thank you, Tom, for always showing thoughtful compassion in everything you do. We appreciate your public service and are thankful that you have taken the time to understand the nuances of the start times proposal. This proposal, backed by BOE, BOF, town pediatricians, the CDC, AMA, and AAP, shows careful consideration of all students and is not a “swapping of tiers” as some continue to suggest even though it’s been disproven over and over again. With the new plan, the earliest bus pickup time is 41 minutes later than the current schedule, ensuring no child is waiting for the bus in the dark or waking up at 6 or even earlier as half our students do today. It is a well-crafted plan that is far better for any child starting Kindergarten next year than the current schedule. And although Town Council members don’t want to vote for or against a health initiative knowing that it’s not in their purview, here we are. We hope the Town Council will make the right decision and find a compromise with the BOE that keeps this incredibly important initiative.

  15. Thank you, Tom, for this cogent and honest piece. As a 30+ year resident of New Canaan, the subject of later school start times has been a topic of exhaustive investigation and conversation nearly my entire life.

    While the plan currently presented is far from perfect – and while we are surely bracing for more inclement seasons as we navigate all effects of COVID-19 including financial – the school time tiering is better than continuing to force teens to attend school earlier than medically advised.

    The science is irrefutable. Highly regarded town organizations have collaborated and established beyond a reasonable doubt all evidence to proceed with the changes in time. It is a shame cohorts of our community feel as though they are pitted against each other, but the research shows there is more wiggle room for little ones to head to school earlier. I say this knowing what an adjustment this would be for both young families and working families. I don’t take this lightly.

    Additionally, as someone who struggled with health issues since infancy – the symptoms of which would have been lessened if I had been offered more time to sleep and get ready in the morning without an Individualized Education Plan – I do think my experiences in the schools would have engendered more success had I not needed to stay home, to teach myself what I missed, to catch up on coursework, to live in a dense fog of exacerbated fatigue. I was able to stay afloat despite this adversity thanks in part to resources not limited to my parents’ advocacy and ability to navigate the school system to procure tutors, etc. Others I fear are not so lucky, despite best efforts on the part of our town and schools and parents.

    It is incontrovertible the immune system itself is directly impacted by inadequate sleep, among any other aspects of a person’s success including their ability to learn. My medical team has always supported this line of thinking, hence provisions in my IEP to begin school later than my peers.

    The Board of Education’s late start plan may not be without flaws, but the current system is more egregiously inequitable to our teens. Please approve the budget the BOE has so carefully crafted that has already been passed by our Board of Finance.

  16. I fully support and applaud our BOE. We outshine most other school districts for good reason. During this global pandemic, we are following the protocols and suggestions yielded by science. Why would we go against that for our children at school. I have four kids – one at NCHS; one at Saxe; two at elementary next year. I would never “swap” one child for another. My elementary kids will be fine with the earlier wake up. They have the ability to fall asleep earlier whereas my older kids do not. There will be uncomfortable adjustments, but I’m prepared to make a sacrifice to support the well being of all my kids. Please listen to the BOE. Now is not the time to jeopardize our good schools or our kids’ health.

  17. Just some points to consider, as you read the comments.
    1) Our school system is currently one of the top ranked school districts in Ct. and it has been a consistent draw for many new families. We also have some of the highest standardized test scores across the grades statewide. I question why we would spend $1 million in this environment to make such a drastic change for potentially no net benefit. Again, you are not removing early start times, you are swapping them with our youngest. Our youngest would have the earliest start times in all of Ct, an average of an hour before other top ranked schools. This change may actually do long term harm to our school system as children ,who will be in our school system for years, start their school experience potentially frustrated daily from lack of sleep.
    2) Please note that of the towns that have changed their start times recently, Greenwich, Norwalk, and Westport, none have simply swapped times and their elementary school start times average almost an hour later than this proposed time, which I think should be the full story.
    3) Proponents have tried to stress Health benefits, but in doing so seldom acknowledge that the very same tables they refer to show elementary school children need up to 3 hours more sleep a night. Forcing children as young as 5 to lead a zombie like existence where they need to wake up in pitch darkness and are often forced to try and sleep when it is still light out. Please look outside this evening at 6:00, as this is when many children would need to be fed, bathed and asleep to meet their “health needs” and meet medical guidelines.
    4) Many elementary school parents are looking for any research that indicates our young children would some how identify or deal with sleep deprivation better than high school students. Or that it would be somehow beneficial for a 5 year old to have less sleep. We have yet to see any of these studies indicating this.
    Surprisingly, Some town residents don’t even realize what they are getting for $1 million of their tax dollars, but I really hope this helps clear it up for them.

  18. I am actually in complete disbelief that given the economic backdrop today versus a month ago that this is being voted on currently. This absolutely should be postponed. Are we that arrogant that we truly think 1 million dollars and a “hefty” reserve are enough? Perhaps you don’t stare at a Bloomberg all day, but I do. Jobless claims in the US just climbed to 10 mm people today and this is just in two weeks – this is an astonishing number. It took 6.5 months during the Great Recession to see unemployment numbers like this and this is only the beginning. Have you opened your college accounts or brokerage accounts yet? There is real economic hardship here now and we need to be wise. Tighten the belt NOW please. Let’s keep our amazing teachers employed!

  19. The Town Council is not voting on start times. The BOE decides how to spend the money they are appropriated. If the BOE doesn’t spend any of the roughly $1 billion dollars they are appropriated from taxpayers over a 10 year period on later start times for all kids, not just some, then cast your blame on them for not prioritizing it. Do some work on the BOE budget to see all the things they prioritize ahead of it.

    Here’s a start: $350,000+ every year on rent for two dozen BOE admins when we have 56 town owned properties, a public relations director, 50+ more non-instructional staff members than Darien despite Darien having a few hundred more students, expensive administrative offsets, over a $1 million for interns and stipends, ~3% salary/benefit increases every year regardless of the environment…one could go on and on.

    Analyze these expenses, then form an opinion. Not a big ask.

  20. Thank you Tom for putting this in such clear language. I greatly appreciate your attendance at all of the BOE meetings, your reading of all of the literature, your full effort to understand the evidence and the facts. Some information for those who think the start time change is a nice-to-have luxury that should be the first thing to go when the economy is tough: sleep is very important for immunity. You are much more likely to catch a virus if you’re sleep deprived. And being sleep-deprived makes vaccines less effective. In a study of flu vaccines, sleeping 6 or fewer hours in the days before getting the vaccine made it 50% less effective. So, especially NOW, we should care a lot about implementing this health initiative. There have to be other ways to save money. And for those who mislead by saying we are flipping tiers and subjecting our youngest to sleep deprivation instead – this is not the case. If we were flipping tiers, East and West would start at 7:30 and first bus at 6:25, with all bus pickups by 7:00. Instead, the first bus pickup will be 41 minutes later and most will be picked up at 7:25 or later. This is a well-crafted plan to maximize the benefit across all ages. There is a single researcher in KY that a few people keep holding up as a “smoking gun”. That research has been questioned by experts, does not even define “early”, and is one study that found a small negative impact in a small body of research where there are just as many studies that find small positive impacts. Judith Owens, a pediatrician and sleep expert who authored the AAP study on start times: “1) Elementary school children are much more likely to have a morningness circadian preference or chronotype and to be “morning larks” (fall asleep and wake earlier). The younger they are, the more likely this morning chronotype is their biologically based circadian rhythm. This is in direct contrast to adolescents who have a strong eveningness preference in association with pubertal onset. 2) Partly as a result of this circadian preference and as opposed to adolescents, they are biologically, environmentally and socially more amenable to manipulation of bedtimes (ie, to move sleep onset earlier)if required; this was demonstrated in the 2015 study in Sleep Health assessing the impact of changing start times from 8:20-9:15a to 7:45a in 3rd-5th graders. The resultant decrease in sleep duration was negligible in the 4th and 5th graders (-4 and -9 minutes respectively) due to earlier bedtimes largely off-setting earlier wake times, and the 3rd graders actually got 24 more minutes of sleep after the change due to earlier bedtimes and slightly later wake times. Thus, one could argue that elementary students (with parental enforcement of bedtimes and restriction of evening screen exposure) are not only able to obtain adequate sleep under conditions of earlier start times, but that this schedule change is more aligned with their circadian rhythms and thus actually benefits them in terms of alertness, cognitive function, mood. etc. On the other hand, adolescents biologically programmed to fall asleep 11p or later and wake at around 8am.” Also the notion that a 7:50 start time, which is 25 minutes earlier than South today, is somehow going to cause 65 minutes lost sleep for our elementary students, is completely absurd.

    • Hi Karen, In the interest of time I will be brief, at least for me. Sorry to do it in bullet form, but you provided a lot to unpack.
      1) In regards to the importance of sleep for a strong immunity, is there any reason why this would not apply to elementary school children as well?
      2) I am not sure, but isn’t the updated first pick-up for elementary school children 7:00AM? I think that was conveyed by the last traffic consultant. You seem to indicate the average time for elementary school pick ups, but not for HS. Also, do we know how many HS students actually drive to school, or don’t even have a first period class which would make their home departure time considerably later, wouldn’t it?
      3) The research that has been quoted was not from a single researcher, but 2 teams of researchers (I believe 5 or 6 in total). The research went across over 700 elementary schools and 300,000 students. One study warned of lower performance and the other of behavioral issues. They specifically said that especially for middle to upper class families there was notably lower scores and behavior issues associated with earlier start times. The also warned very clearly that districts should not just switch times. And those are their words and not just my interpretations. Conversely, I am looking for studies that indicate the opposite or that, somehow time of day can in any way be correlated to academic success. As, I have stated earlier that would imply that East coaster would be smarter than West coasters because of our earlier time zones.
      4) I agree that some younger children do get up earlier, but do they get up in pitch darkness every morning. We are not against moving elementary school start times, but just not so drastically. Although you choose to compare South school to the new times, we along with over 1,000 other elementary school children currently start our day 9:05, a full 1:15 minutes later than the proposal. And again, objectively the earliest time in all of Ct.

      Again, This debate didn’t have to come to this. Many parents did not know about this schedule until January, as the surveys and communication did not give any indication that this would be the preferred option. Many could actually read from the surveys that this was not the option desired. To date I don’t believe we know of a single other option that was priced out as this one was. Shouldn’t we be prudent and spend money on the right plan, as opposed to a plan that would benefit some at the expense of others, especially in these times.

  21. “But the message from school leaders is loud and clear: Start time changes won’t happen if we cut $1 million. That’s not just gamesmanship. School leaders legitimately believe that savings of that magnitude aren’t possible without jeopardizing educational quality. ”

    If that’s not “gamesmanship”, I don’t know what is. Tom, your naivete would be amusing if we didn’t need to make some important decisions. They have a big honking budget, stop enabling irresponsible asks. Just maybe, with TC’s help, they will be able to scrape together enough funds from other parts of their budget to facilitate the best start times for ALL the students. Just maybe, it will be seen as doing their part to come up with a solution that is even better than what they have proposed.

  22. Random question : Are there follow-up plans/studies in the works to see if New Canaan students really do find themselves more blissful, acing exams, never as much as sneezing, etc., with later start times? Or possibly going the other way and becoming far grumpier and flunking out while coughing all the time? Maybe even just staying exactly the same?

    And if so, do we have an option of going back to the way things are now should later start times not be all that?

    As I’ve stated here before, I’m a big fan of the bigger initiatives the town has going on, like the Library for instance. That seems like money well spent to me. $1 Million dollars to hit the snooze button a couple more times, maybe not so much. Not that I’m against people getting to sleep-in. I think sleeping-in is amazing. Just not sure it’s worth the price of a million N95 masks is all.

    But mostly just wondering if we, as a town, will have an objective way of knowing if different start times actually provide positive change. And if so, or if not, is there a plan on what we do next?

    • All medical experts including the AMA, CDC and AAP recommend this change. Our pediatricians support this change. I can’t see why we would not prioritize the health of our students, especially now. Getting the minimum amount of sleep is much much more than a “nice to have.”

      To answer your question, yes, the medical recommendations are based on decades of scientific research that shows many benefits associated with adolescents getting healthy sleep.

      In addition, our BOF has already scrutinized this BOE budget, reduced it, and fully supports it. The BOF has also stated that our town is well positioned financially with about $30mm of reserves.

      • Yes, I’m aware of all the studies. And I’m aware that it’s a good thing to sleep later. My question is if we, New Canaan, are going to do any follow-up to see if later start times have an effect, good/bad/indifferent, on our actual students, town and situation. It seems crazy to me it should cost anything, let alone a million dollars, to have school start a handful of minutes later. Seems it’d be good to know if we’re getting our money’s worth.

  23. Is this really the right environment to be paying $1 million for what is essentially an experiment? I contend that this is what we are being asked to pay for. The hypothesis is that: The benefit of later start times for High School students would somehow outweigh the damage done to elementary school children. When there has been absolutely no research backing that counter intuitive assumption. In addition, we do not want our children to be test subjects or guinea pigs in this experiment even under the best of fiscal circumstances. Which this is obviously not.

    When our young elementary school children go to school tired and sleep deprived they can build a learning foundation with nothing but frustration, for reasons they likely wont be able to identify, much less cope with. And there are no do-overs or redo’s for these children. So, you will have students that will go through our school system for the next 12 years that never got the educational footing they needed. This can effectively sabotage all the work and funding that has been done to make our school district one of the best in Ct.

    Although no research has been provided that their hypothesis is correct they push forward because High School would get more sleep, providing research, which no one is disputing. But what about the other half of your hypothesis? What about our towns youngest? What about the same research which indicates requirements for elementary school children. Are proponents just conveniently ignoring this data?, because I only hear the portion of medical research that applies to older children. However, I invite you all to look at the comments and see if any proponents mention the research on sleep needs of younger children that are in the very same medical research they quote.

    Please do not experiment on our youngest children, they just want a reasonable start time, and not the earliest in all of Ct.

    • This is not an experiment. That is a characterization. Many private schools in our area have similar elementary start times.

      Private schools can choose when to start their school day and many start their lower schools at 8:00 a.m. With longer commute times, this is essentially earlier than a 7:50 start. Local examples:
      Greenwich Academy
      Whitby
      Greenwich Country Day School
      King School
      Greens Farms Academy

      Elementary teachers in New Canaan and around the country say that a 7:50 a.m. start is better for younger students than a 9:00 a.m. start because younger students learn best earlier in the day.

      Many elementary students in New Canaan start school at 7:45 a.m. now (and pay extra to do so), through either the early bird program or the Parks & Rec before school enrichment programs.

  24. James, please stop referring to the proposed change in start times as an experiment. In lieu of an exhaustive list of studies showing that our BOE has made the proposal that is best for ALL our students, I’ll leave you with this:

    Judith Owens, Director of Sleep Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, states, and I quote, “elementary students are not only able to obtain adequate sleep under conditions of earlier start times, but that this schedule change is more aligned with their circadian rhythms and thus actually benefits them in terms of alertness, cognitive function, mood, etc. On the other hand, adolescents are biologically programmed to fall asleep at 11 PM or later and wake around 8 AM”. THAT is an incredibly specific, medical guideline and completely in line with the Board of Ed’s proposed schedule change.

    Many schools across the country have already made this change and have had positive results among all age groups. You know this. For anyone who would like to learn more about the mountains of research leading to this decision, please feel free to reach out to me directly. I’d love to discuss.

  25. If everyone cares so much about the health of New Canaan’s youth, why do they all vape while wearing basketball shorts when it’s 30 degrees out?

    This discussion is the epitome of fiddling while Rome burns.

  26. Tom and Mark,
    Thank you for your thoughtful insight regarding Healthy School Start times. I agree that following the science and staying competitive with surrounding towns is crucial. As a parent with two children in the public school system, I hope that the healthy school start times are approved in the near future.

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