Later school start times are back on the agenda for the Monday, Dec. 10, Board of Education meeting.

Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis said the board will discuss a busing scenario that will return the schools to a three-tier bus system.

Under that scenario, five of the elementary schools would start first at 8 a.m. — about 35 minutes later than the high school currently starts.

The high school, and one remaining elementary school, would start at 8:30. Both middle schools would start at 9.

The board first proposed the scenario at its Oct. 22 meeting. It followed an hour-long discussion in which the board rejected the idea of delaying its plan to move to later start times next fall.

Backlash

Since the board voted to pursue later start times in October 2017, it has faced intense criticism from parents and residents who have called for the project to be delayed to another year, or scrapped altogether.

On Nov. 26, town residents opposed to the change filled the conference room where the board was holding its bi-weekly meeting, to demand the board do away with the change — even though the start times project was not on that evening’s agenda.

Those opposed wore red — as in a stop sign — to protest the later start time project and push for its halt.

Six people spoke, none of them in favor of moving to later start times next fall.

While many said they were concerned that later starts would negatively impact academic achievement, after school programs, and town businesses that rely on high school workers, the cost to taxpayers was the most commonly raised issue.

“This plan is too complicated, too expensive, lacks primary leadership and is anchored to an unreasonable timeline,” said Jen Migano, a high school and middle school parent.

“We need our board of education to take it off the table and focus on other more important and more relevant core issues.”

Migano was one of six parents who submitted an online petition calling for the board to reverse its decision on later start times.

As of 12:48 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6, the petition has gathered 710 signatures online.

Supporters

Not everyone is against the change, however.

In a joint statement, parents Colleen Broderick and Gigi Christel said they expect the board to implement the change next fall.

“In October 2017, after years of discussions and postponements, the Board of Education committed unanimously to follow the medical recommendation of the American Medical Association, Center for Disease Control, and American Academy of Pediatrics to implement healthy start times in 2019-20,” they said.

The two parents head the Ridgefield chapter of Start School Later, a non-profit organization that advocates for later school starts and led parents who petitioned in 2016 for the board to make the change.

“That recommendation, that school should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. for adolescents, is based on decades of research. Many districts across the country have followed the recommendations, and RPS is now in the scant 10% of earliest-starting school districts with start times as early as 7:25 a.m.,” they said.

“We fully expect the BOE to follow through on its promise to protect children's health, safety, and education and implement in 2019/20. Our current start times harm students every single day. There's not a moment to spare in indecision or fear.”