New Canaan parents push for later school start times
NEW CANAAN — Parents have renewed calls for the Board of Education to move to later school start times, cautioning against distraction and delays.
The half-dozens parents who spoke during the public comment session to open the Board of Education meeting last week cited medical research and the effect lack of sleep can have on emotions, particularly feelings of anxiety.
Karen Willett questioned the wording of a survey on start times given to students before winter break: “If or when you believe that you are not getting enough sleep, in order of importance, what are the causes?”
The options are: Homework, device usage, after-school commitments, and time management, Willett said.
“This question seems to be trying to get us off the hook on changing start times by deflecting blame to other causes,” Willett told the Board of Education. “It does not even include ‘school start times’ as an answer option. But doctors have been telling us since 2014 that school start times are clearly a cause of chronic teen sleep deprivation and that we need to change.”
“It feels like we’ve lost focus on the most important reason to start school for teenagers at 8:30 or later,” parent Heather Moore said. “And that is the undisputed medical fact that our teenagers are being harmed by our 7:30 a.m. start time. It’s not about opinions, commutes, homework habits, or athletics. It’s about the health of our children.”
Willett said the wording of the survey and comments made at the previous Board of Education meeting “have me worried that we are only going to decide to make a change if we can find a solution that everyone wants, including the students, and that has no real tradeoffs.”
Moore asked why New Canaan was not acting to reschedule school to meet teen sleep cycles, while at the same time implementing district-wide a Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Program that stresses the need for adequate sleep.
The April 1 meeting came during Safe Driving Awareness Week, when a mock crash was staged
Willet said she was concerned that New Canaan is “stuck in the mindset that the status quo is a real option.”
“If you were starting a system from scratch and you put 10 options on the table, including the current schedule, the current schedule is probably the last one you would pick,” Willett said. “Because we know it is harming the health of our children every single day.
“We have to stop doing that,” she added, “even if all of the options that are healthy for students are also difficult to implement, expensive, inconvenience one group or cause problems for a particular sport. We can’t put logistics, adult inconveniences, or our fear that some people will be angry, above the health of our children. And while it is important to also address these other things, homework, time management, overscheduling and device usage, we cannot use them as an excuse to not change start times.”
During a budget hearing April 2, Town Council Chairman John Engel used the looming cost of changing school start times to illustrate the need for prioritzation and planning, as such a revision would carry a cost.