Editor’s Note: The Ridgefield Board of Education has released the following statement outlining plans to change school starting times to later in the morning, following requests from parent groups.

The Ridgefield Board of Education (BOE) moves to develop a project plan for healthy school start times initiative. In response to parent advocacy and the board’s review of associated scientific research reported by the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Sleep Health Awareness Project, and others, the BOE has voted unanimously to develop an implementation plan for healthy school start times in the Ridgefield Public Schools district. Working with the administration, this initiative will be lead by the BOE’s Strategic Planning Committee chaired by James Keidel, and members David Cordisco, Doug Silver, and Margaret Stamatis. The Strategic Planning Committee will be dedicated to this initiative and lead the way to its implementation for the 2018-19 school year.

Committee chairman James Keidel states, “The Strategic Planning Committee is committed to exploring the feasibility of changing school start times. In connection with this, during the next few months, the committee will be seeking input from the various groups that would be affected by a change. This feedback will be of paramount importance to the committee in order to develop a plan for the board to consider that reflects the various options available and the obstacles that such a change may present.”

In February, the administration began making inquiries into the a start time change with the hiring of transportation consulting firm Edulog. As part of a transportation review to validate student counts on bus runs and the potential cost savings from shorter bus runs, an inquiry was added to review possible efficiencies in returning to a three-tier bus system that could be utilized to effectuate healthier start times. This research is currently underway. The BOE requested that Dr. Baldwin and the Strategic Planning Committee make a presentation at the May 22 board meeting regarding the results of that inquiry along with its preliminary plan for the healthy start times initiative.

“The Strategic Planning Committee of the Board in our first meeting has helped to elevate the discussion on the topic of healthy school start times and is committed to producing a strong plan with timelines, benchmarks and deliverables with the start of the 2018-2019 school year as the target for implementation,” said Dr. Baldwin.

Dr. Baldwin and the BOE members agree that all stakeholders need to be brought into the process through discussions, focus groups, surveys, and the formation of a larger ad-hoc committee to insure the final outcome provides for the health and well being of all students. While there is strong advocacy in favor of later start times at the high school, the initiative will address system wide start times for the benefit of elementary and middle school students as well. The board has heard concern about the 9:10 a.m. (fourth tier) elementary start time, and as such the scope of the Strategic Planning Committee’s work is quite comprehensive.

“While the science is clear related to the link between adolescent sleep patterns and the overall health and wellness of young people, it is important that we recognize that a change to school start times is a decision that can affect the entire community,” says Dr. Baldwin.

Because this initiative has the potential to affect system-wide change in the district, the Strategic Planning Committee and administration will consider the needs of our students and their parents, teachers, staff, and community members that offer a wide range of after school activities for Ridgefield youth.

Board Chair Fran Walton said, “The board will engage in a consultation process. We recognize that any changes will affect all children K-12 and their families, which is why effective consultation is of paramount importance.”

For more information visit the Ridgefield Public Schools website at ridgefield.org.