Parents unsatisfied with school statement on start times
Editor's note: This is a revised version of the story that ran in the March 9th edition of The Ridgefield Press.
Support for later start times at the high school has kept Board of Education meetings heated throughout the fall and winter.
And now, with spring on the horizon, the conflict might be reaching a boiling point with parents starting to look at what other towns are doing to force a scheduling change.
Superintendent Karen Baldwin has said at recent board meetings that although she recognizes the health benefits of later start times, there is no time to implement them in the 2017-18 school budget.
In a press release Friday, March 3, Ridgefield Public Schools said the board would begin work on a plan that would implement revised start times for the 2018-19 school year.
“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,” said board member and committee chair James Keidel. 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.”
Meredith Harris, a spokesperson for the Ridgefield chapter of Start School Later (SSL), wasn’t satisfied with that statement .
Talking to The Press Monday, March 6, Harris said there is definitely enough time to push back start times for the 2017-18 school year.
“A lot of people are skeptical on the press release, so we are going to continue to push because we feel it is completely doable,” she said.
"I have been informed that there parents of a student who are considering filing a class action suit against a town for failing to implement later start times at a high school. I believe once it is filed, others will follow their lead. The suit is not being filed in Ridgefield," she said in a follow up email with The Press.
"I do not want BOE to spend time discussing defense of nonexistent lawsuits rather than implementing healthy start times."
Later high school start times have been a topic of discussion for decades, since the first district in Minnesota to implement them saw positive effects in health and academic performance back in 1995.
Research has proven that teenagers’ brain growth is actually stunted from waking up too early.
“Now we have some data, and when we have the data we have a responsibility to act on it,” said Pam Hartnett of SSL’s Ridgefield chapter, which was founded in September 2016. “And that’s where I’m disappointed with the Board of Education.”
Wilton implemented later high school start times in 2003, she said, and Greenwich followed suit last fall.
“They just took the leap and did it, and they never looked back it,” said Hartnett of Wilton’s schedule change.
“We have very capable people on our Board of Education. I’d like to see them doing more with their abilities.”
Other studies prove that later start times reduce risks of athletic injuries and car accidents, according to Hartnett.
A student petition was also started that has collected more than 125 signatures.
“As students, we realize that we lack the perspective the BOE has on this topic; while their points are valid, so are ours,” reads the petition.
“The voice of the student body must be heard. If Ridgefield High School succeeds while sleep-deprived, imagine what we could achieve while well-rested.”
Hartnett said she’s experienced firsthand the change in sleeping patterns that occur when children reach their teenage years.
“My 14-year-old was that kid who always woke up early — 5:30 a.m — as soon as the sun went up,” she said.
According to Hartnett, going to bed earlier is simply not an option for many adolescents.
“Now we go to bed at 9 p.m. and he tells me, ‘I lay there for an hour, I can’t fall asleep,’” she told The Press.
The board hired a Montana-based consultant, Education Logistics, to look at bus routes to find potential savings and also come up with possible plans to implement later start times.
Harris and Harnett said they should have hired a consultant a long time before Feb. 20, when the contract was actually signed.
Harris also pointed out that the contract with Education Logistics does not clearly address later start times.
“The board has taken on much bigger challenges,” she said. “This is not a big one … this is doable.”