Op-Ed: School Start Times—Time for a New Brief


Much has been discussed around the work that has been done over the past three years, going on four now, to solve for a better start time solution. There is no question there has been a tremendous amount of research, debate and outreach around this issue. However, the reason we have not come to a good place where the overwhelming majority of our 4,200 current enrolled student community is served is that we have been solving around an 8:30 a.m. start time for high school students solely. The approach has brought many, many scenarios on how to adjust start time for this perfect ideal but at the expense of the youngest children and 5/6 graders. 

For example, the last scenario has children being dropped at school by buses 20 minutes prior to school starting just to allow for buses to recirculate for the high school students. Additional care is then required and pick up times as early as 7:01 based on the last bus consultant. Our 5/6 graders would be facing such a late start that before school care would be required for many and some would not get home until nearly 5pm. This wipes away important time for socialization, homework and extracurriculars that serve to keep our kids healthy as well. 

The original brief of obtaining the objective of an 8:30 start time in a vacuum sounds wonderful. But that is just it—it is in a vacuum. Three scenarios were provided to all parents with children in the school system last fall. None were widely loved but one with a 2-tier system was the best solution presented at the time. It was deemed too costly by the BOE at $1.2 million. This represents just 1% our total budget.

What is important to note on this timing is that while high school parents had three years of information and waiting, the rest of us, unless knee deep in the BOE workings, had no clue. And even then this was a high school discussion and one that on the surface sounds like a no-brainer. Those of us who became aware of the full situation, the effects on our littlest ones, last fall through a survey had four short months to be heard and request new approaches.
My children are thriving. I am overjoyed at the way we have opened schools and the opportunities our children have from the incredible support our town provides. Our leaders deserve our thanks and respect but not always our full wholehearted, without question support.

It is time for a new brief. One that serves the overwhelming majority of our students. Nothing will be perfect but we can most certainly do better. 

Key Initiative: Health and Wellbeing as provided by appropriate sleep time for all children.

Objective: Understand the financial scenario of getting all children to school between 8-9 a.m.

Examples of Points of  Negotiation:

  • Which schools start first
  • Collapsing of 5-8 grades to avoid traffic issues at Farm Rd/South Ave intersection and drive efficiencies on buses
  • Number of buses

A new brief by no means throwing out all the work that has been done but rather informs a better place. One that widely serves our entire school community. We should be able to do this quickly. The last bus consultant was able in a matter of weeks to review the routes we had to confirm their efficiencies. This work can be built upon to change the model to solve for a new number of buses with the properly included variables. A brief only is as good as its inputs and defined objectives. It should be noted that last year the Board did ask the Administration and the last bus consultant if they solved for an 8-9 start time for all students and the answer was no. The logical next step is to change the brief.

I provide these points of view with:

  • Humility—I do not profess to know all the details of the past three years but of those from last fall and from that is where I base my knowledge and observations. If we did ever solve for a 8-9 start time, what are the details?
  • Fortitude—This is an incredibly important subject and one that I and many believe in as displayed through petitions, personal presentations and communications written across the school year not just the last Town Council meeting. We deserve the respect back to address the feasibility of a better start time scenario.
  • An Open Mind—I truly believe that a mind is like a parachute. It only works when open. We have so much talent in this town I know there is a way to come to a great place.

My greatest respect and optimism for a better solution,

Jennifer Dalipi

10 thoughts on “Op-Ed: School Start Times—Time for a New Brief

  1. I am not sure why this subject is coming back now. We are in the middle of a pandemic and right now we should be focused on keeping our kids actually in school. I have two kids in high school now and a son that graduated from NCHS last year. Pushing back start times will only do one thing – let our kids stay up later. So much discussion is about more sleep, but realistically our kids will not get more sleep. I would also point out that most kids usually have “sleep-ins” at least once a week because of study halls at NCHS. Both of my high schoolers got an extra hour of sleep just this morning for that reason alone. Secondly, when my kids were in 8th grade, they had lacrosse and football practice from 7:30-9 pm because that was the only time the fields were free. When you shift the high school later, you shift their field usage later which will trickle down to the youth sports.

  2. What is more important right now – figuring out and focussing on how to keep schools open for in-person learning for all each and every day (please reference Covid positivity data in CT yesterday) or ‘solving’ for school start times for next year?

  3. To both Robin and Giacomo,

    I also believe the focus should be on keeping the schools open and the administration is doing an amazing job. The reality unfortunately is that per the letter written earlier this week on approving budgets “because we can afford things” signifies another budget season for New Canaan no matter what else is happening in our world. The Board of Ed included in their charter sleep times as an important part of the our children health and wellbeing. Mr. Hayes has said that if they move ahead no change to the current proposed scenario will be made. So if there is room in the budget it will proceed as proposed which is simply not acceptable to many here in town. Perhaps it would help is the BOE made clear their intention this year for their plans for the 2021-2022 school year as their budget is due to the town in January (if I got it right) and voted on in December of this year amongst themselves.

    In regards to sports, this was brought up as an issue as well last fall – the times are already getting later which is difficult. My son stopped playing basketball because practice times were too late. The question on expectations of rink or pool time practice times which are usually before school for example was brought up. Due to requirements of others in town changes to accessible practices times wouldn’t change. Let’s at least finally have alignment on what to solve for.

    With so much information that we do have we get closer to a good solution. Organizations across our world are having to solve for today and tomorrow. Even though we aren’t quite sure of what tomorrow may fully entail. We do know that at little ones shouldn’t get a raw deal.

    To quote Dr. Suess – “a persons a person no matter how small”.

    • The BOE has a pretty good-sized budget and can prioritize within that as far as I understand. My view is we have a very challenging situation with Covid that overshadows essentially everything unfortunately (and has for the last 7+ months). If you listen to Dr. Fauci this will go on for some time – perhaps even into 2022. In a situation like this you need to be very clear with priorities as we don’t have endless financial resources. I doubt a majority of town residents have seen their personal income increase this year compared with last (perhaps I am wrong). So my view is to save our financial resources and management time to stay focused on keeping schools open and safe for all kids (and teachers / staff) each day of this year and if necessary also next. If we go back to remote their will be plenty of time for everybody to sleep and if we stay in school – we should be really happy – even with these start times.

  4. Agree that in-person learning should be the focus this year but Jennifer is partly responding to a previous Op-Ed that omitted important facts and distorted others. I’m glad she got the opportunity to respond with an open-minded approach based on an analysis of the impact of a policy on all kids and the community at large, not just some. It’s refreshing.

  5. I’m in the change nothing boat. But I’m old fashioned. See I think we as parents succeeded because we woke up early and got stuff done. Personally, I was always at my mental sharpest in the morning and duller as the night approached. Buy that is just anecdotal evidence.

    From a sports perspective, I agree that pushing games further into the evening is a problem.

    I think the best solution to improve our kids learning is to take away the electronic devices, not from the kids, but from the parents. Yes mom and dad, from you. More time spent with your kids is immensely more valuable than late school times.

  6. Thank you for writing this piece and responding to the op-Ed that was written last week about this subject. I think most of us agree that our main focus right now should be keeping the schools open and managing the covid situation. Unfortunately, as Jen mentioned, the budget will come up for a vote and school start times is a priority for the BoE. The point Jen is making, and which many of us made last year, is that we should be solving for all children in New Canaan and not just the older ones. And people are correct to point out the sports issues and how practice times will just shift to early morning, so shifting the high school start times will not necessarily result in more sleep. I commend Superintendent Luzzi for doing an excellent job at navigating an extremely difficult situation this spring and fall and for safely opening our schools. Now I just ask that he and the BoE similarly focus their attention on solving for all students with respect to sleep, instead of only the few who raised the issue first. I don’t want my children at any age to be going to school, or coming home, in the dark. We have an opportunity, let’s not squander it.

  7. Just to spark ideas, what if a school had 2 shifts to spread out the bussing. For example, half the kids go 8-2, the other half go 9-3?

    • Hi Barbara, Great to see your interest in searching for a better solution. I think many people who oppose this plan actually do support trying to get more sleep for High Schoolers. After all, we hope that our kids will get there one day. However, it is difficult to determine how seriously any other scenarios were considered and apparently no other scenarios were priced out by the logistics/transportation specialists, as the current one was. Some other scenarios were included in “School Schedule Survey Analysis” prepared by “Hanover Research” (https://www.ncps-k12.org/cms/lib/CT01903077/Centricity/Domain/980/School%20Schedule%20Survey%20Analysis-New%20Canaan%20Public%20Schools_June-2019.pdf). There was one 2 Tier alternative included in the study, but not sure if it was considered past offering it in the survey. There was also an additional focus group survey taken a couple of months after the study (https://www.ncps-k12.org/cms/lib/CT01903077/Centricity/Domain/980/aggregated%20october%2021%20feedback%20from%20various%20focus%20groups%20for%20BOE%20handouts.pdf), but did not offer a 2 Tier alternative. I hope these help.

      Some of us have discussed potential next steps in finding a better solution, but are somewhat waylaid by Covid-19. Unfortunately, new alternatives and options would likely require some administration support/assistance, as they face the priority of keeping our schools open. I think in our current environment it would be unwise to try and implement any plan that may affect so many. I sincerely believe that we can find a solution that is more equitable for all our children.

    • Thank you Barbara – I love fresh ideas. I do as well think there is a alternative solution. Much of the complication has to do with traffic and number of buses but with the right number of buses I am confident we can come to a conclusion that can work. As James has mentioned there was a two tier solution that was proposed but was removed from consideration due to cost. However, the cost of the scenario that was proposed that put our youngest at risk for lack of sleep among other things was nearing $800k and the final costs were not even tallied not to mention many complications and expenses for individual families it would create. It certainly warrants taking a look at the two-tier scenario again considering the call to arms to support our BOE budget in it’s full entirety and the widespread support of the town. Note though, I don’t support spending for the sake of spending – the solution must go to serve the overwhelming majority of our students.

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