District officials this month will review more specifics of a proposal to change school start times in New Canaan prior to formally planning for its implementation in the middle of next academic year, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said Monday night.
The district, including Transportation Coordinator Roy Walder, will meet with the bus company and then will then “be able to share the routes and times with more specificity,” Luizzi told members of the Board of Education during their regular meeting, held via videoconference.
Citing a reference document that Town Clerk Claudia Weber prepared regarding a potential referendum vote on Board of Ed funding, Luizzi noted that the town in any case is not empowered to dictate how the schools spend funds on a line-item basis.
“We should continue to move confidently forward in our discussions and our work and putting together the implementation committee as we have spoken about at the meeting last week [April 29], so that we can continue moving forward and making the decisions that need to be made,” Luizzi said. “So at our next meeting on the 17th [of May], we will have information to share about a couple of different scenarios, more updates. Again Roy [Walder] is working hard to pull all this together. If there are any bumps in the road and we are not able to make that deadline, we will let you know. But otherwise we look forward to the dialogue then.”
He referred to a potential referendum regarding about $460,000 in the Board of Ed’s approved budget for next fiscal year—funds needed for additional buses tied to proposed new start times. As proposed by the Board of Ed, the changes—which would see elementary schools start at 7:45 a.m., New Canaan High School at 8:30 a.m., seventh and eighth grades at 8:35 a.m. and fifth and sixth grades at 9:15 a.m.—represent the same schedule that the school board had brought before the Town Council last April in making a funding request that the legislative body ultimately rejected.
This year, at the Town Council’s March 31 meeting, the legislative body by a 2-10 vote rejected a motion to reduce the Board of Ed’s operating budget next fiscal year by $463,337. On April 13, the Town Clerk’s office received a notice of intention to petition that Town Council decision. The petitioners have until May 7 to collect and submit the qualifying number of signatures required (682) to force a referendum vote on the matter.
According to Weber’s info sheet, “If those requirements aren’t met, the process stops, and a referendum will not be held.”
“Once the signatures have been verified, the Town Council has 30 days from the date of the filing with the Town Clerk (of the Petition for a Referendum) in which to set the date and hold the referendum,” Weber said in the info sheet.
Two parents addressed the Board of Ed during a public comment period toward the end of Monday’s meeting.
Domenica Monaghan said she and others are “very much aware of the Board of Education’s research and efforts on getting teens more sleep.”
“But the real question is: What the Board of Education has done for the elementary-age child?” she said. “Where are the experts they have claimed to retain? Where are studies that discuss the impacts of early start times on elementary-age children? Through the FOIA requests, we have learned that they are, indeed, non-existent, as was so painfully obvious before. Let’s be clear and restate that to date there has been no specific research on how early school start times affect elementary-age students. After the Town Council meeting last month, I spent all week contacting and conversing with community organizations, community program leaders and experts. Actual experts. Experts who have specifically studied how early school start times impact elementary-age children—and not just physically but emotionally as well.”
According to Monaghan, those experts “not only disagreed with this new initiative for younger children, but they were also willing to speak on behalf of these young students because they are so aware of how this change will negatively affect them.”
“Even more concerning was the fact that while we have been told that the Board of Ed is working on programs for children after school, those community organizations or community program leaders were never even contacted,” she said. “Imagine that. Organizations and programs that would be directly impacted were not even given the opportunity to be made aware about this change. I can’t really be all that surprised, that these organizations and programs were not made aware of the change, when many families still don’t even know about this proposal. These are the facts, and what we have been told is not what is actually happening here.”
Another parents, James Yao, said he believes that many Board of Ed members when they first came forward with a formal proposal to change school start times last year “simply did not know what the plan was going to do to young children and families.”
“Perhaps you’d simply forgotten what the daily challenges and rewards of raising a 5- or 6-year-old child are,” he said. “Maybe you simply cannot find or did not consider the precedent, science and research in warning against what this schedule change could do to our young children. But after providing all of this information over the past year, as well as hearing the feedback from so many concerned parents, the plan still remains unchanged. I can, unfortunately, come to only one of two conclusions. Either you are clearly prioritizing the wants of some high school parents over 1,000 elementary school children, or you simply do not care about our young children at all. If that seems harsh, consider the unacknowledged, desperate pleas from so many parents. Consider that many, like myself, see this as a gut-punch to our families that you continue to endorse. Consider that you not only appear to refuse any compromise, but instead help propagate some of the fabricated support for the current proposal.”
Yao said the Board of Ed has not earnestly considered community feedback in putting together its plan to change school start times.
“Please remind me how you considered community feedback in coming to this proposal,” he said. “I remind you that consideration of feedback is not simply listening to it and doing the opposite. Now if you truly care about young children in our town, listen to the feedback and come to a better solution that may not be perfect for high schoolers, but better for all. At a minimum, can you please email parents about the proposed change? Many have heard nothing about this change since last January. This cannot be anything less than withholding information from people who would be most drastically affected.”