Op-Ed: Next Steps in Evaluating School Start Times in New Canaan

On Monday night, the Board of Education took an important step in its consideration of school start and end times by narrowing its focus and directing the administration to further evaluate the pros and cons of one particular scenario as presented in the community-wide survey this past May. The Board of Education did not make a decision to change school start times on Monday evening. Instead, the Board is continuing to learn about the impacts of a potential change on students, parents, families, staff, and the community, and to solicit feedback from all stakeholders in order to best anticipate the consequences of making a change prior to making a decision. The Board is continuing to follow the process that it had outlined previously, and will continue to learn about the impacts of a potential change in the months ahead. 

As a Board, we are exploring making a possible change to school start times as one dimension of our broader initiative focused on creating the conditions for improved student health and wellness. This discussion is occurring in school districts locally and nationally in response to a growing body of research that highlights the important connections between sleep and student health and wellness, the complex challenges faced by today’s adolescents, and the positive impact a change in school start times can have on student sleep habits.

Board of Ed Favors Plan To Start New Canaan High School Nearly One Hour Later

With inconclusive survey results and established health data in hand, nearly all members of the Board of Education said Monday night that the district should pursue a new school start time schedule that allows teens to get more sleep. Though the Board took no formal vote at its regular meeting, seven of eight members present said the district should devote further study to an option that would see New Canaan High School start at 8:20 a.m.—50 minutes later than the current 7:30 a.m. start time. “I think that based on the research that has been done, based on the feedback that we have, it’s worth figuring out whether there is a viable option to have our teenagers go to school later,” Board of Ed Chairman Brendan Hayes said at well-attended meeting, held in the Wagner Room at NCHS. “And the likely [outcome] from that, although I think [it’s] also beneficial for our younger students, is for them to go to school earlier.”

Under the proposed new start time schedule, all of Saxe Middle School would start at 9:05 a.m. (currently 7:30 a.m. for seventh and eighth grades, 8:20 a.m. for fifth and sixth) and the elementary schools at 7:45 a.m. (currently 8:20 a.m. for South School, 9:05 a.m. for East and West). The additional buses needed to realize that system would see New Canaan pay an additional $300,000 to $450,000 annually, officials have said.