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

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.

Letter: Town Council Should Reject Funding for Changes to School Start Times

This week our Town Council has the difficult and unenviable task of advising the Board of Education on this year’s budget. One that contains the controversial addition of a start time initiative that has been conveyed to many as simply “later start times for high school students.”

In actuality, we are not removing early start times at all. 

Our tax dollars would be going to swap “too early for high school” start times with our youngest elementary school children. Giving our youngest children the dubious honor of having the earliest elementary school start times in all of Connecticut, an hour earlier than other top ranked schools. So, is this swap worth more than $1 million this year and hundreds of thousands of dollars each year going forward? I contend that not only is it not worth it, but we could be doing greater harm to our elementary schoolchildren than any benefit received by high school students.

Letter: Earlier School Start Times for New Canaan Students

Perhaps many have heard the New Canaan Board of Education touting its plan for later school start times for students and how it would be a great win for “our” students. More sleep for our children sounds like a great thing, right? What Board of Ed members don’t mention is that it would be solely at the expense of our youngest children (and about $1 million in tax dollars). The current plan they are trying to push through is attempting to give high school students an additional hour of sleep by taking away one hour and 20 minutes from most elementary school children. This would represent the earliest elementary school start time in all of Connecticut and an average of one hour earlier than the other schools.

Board of Ed Backs $92.8 Million Spending Plan; Final Recommended School Start Time Schedule Still To Come

The Board of Education on Tuesday night voted 6-1 to recommend an approximately $92.8 million spending plan for next fiscal year. The budget brought forward by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi and endorsed by the school board during its regular meeting represents a 1.47% increase over current spending—within Board of Finance guidelines. 

It includes about $950,000 needed for new transportation costs that would come with a revised school start times schedule, though it is unclear which of two equally expensive start time scenarios the Board of Ed ultimately will recommend. 

The first scenario, studied and discussed extensively for months, would see the three elementary schools start together at 7:45 a.m., followed by the seventh and eighth grades at Saxe Middle School and all of New Canaan High School at 8:30 a.m. with the fifth and sixth grades at Saxe starting together at 9:15 a.m.

Major advantages of that schedule include starting school late enough that adolescents get sufficient sleep, district officials have said, citing established medical data and recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. It also would see all three elementary schools get onto the same start and end time schedule and avoid having those young kids in school late into the afternoon, when anecdotal evidence says they tire out, officials have said. Yet based on strong feedback from the community, including families with kids in elementary school, Board of Ed Chair Katrina Parkhill said the elected body may consider another scenario that “flips” the first and last “tiers.” In other words, the fifth and sixth grades would start at 7:45 a.m. while the elementary schools would all start at 9:15 a.m., she said. “This scenario may more appropriately balance schedules, in response to family and community needs,” Parkhill said during the meeting, held in the Wagner Room at NCHS.