Saying ‘No’ to start times: Parent questions ‘backwards’ initiative
Ridgefield High School might be starting later in the fall of 2019, but not if a group of petitioning parents has anything to say about it.
“We’re met with a town that, two-to-one, doesn’t want this initiative,” said RHS parent Sean McEvoy March 23, pointing to a survey sent out by the district last fall that resulted in 2,133 votes for not changing the current school schedule against 1,256 votes in favor making a change to later start times.
McEvoy, whose oldest child graduated from the high school in 2015, said the Board of Education is “starting with a conclusion — ‘we’re changing start times.’”
“Now they’re just working backwards to how we’re gonna do it,” he said. “That’s insane. The town doesn’t want it.”
An online petition to keep Ridgefield start times unchanged gathered some 696 signatures on iPetitions as of March 27
Dr. Robert Miller, the district’s acting superintendent, said March 25 that he’s still the project lead for later start times.
“We hear clearly the voices both in favor of and not in favor of the changes to school start times,” Miller said, adding that the district has not yet adopted a new set of start times.
Asked about the timing of the opposition to a shift to later start times — less than two weeks after the board agreed to enter into a resignation agreement with Superintendent Karen Baldwin — McEvoy said he thinks residents “see the turmoil at BOE, and see a new opening to reopen the ridiculous, pre-determined program.”
The Board of Education voted unanimously to move to later start times in the 2019-20 school year at its Oct. 23, 2017, meeting.
McEvoy highlighted the raw data from a survey on start times the district put out in September 2017, which he obtained by filing a Freedom of Information Act request with both the school district and with EdAdvance, the company that produced the survey for the schools.
Almost twice as many students, parents, and staff supported making no change to the district’s school start times as the number who wanted the change, according to the results of a survey conducted by the schools last fall. In total, 2,133 respondents said they support no change to start times, compared to 1,256 who wanted change.
McEvoy said the survey results showed that 356 staff members said they supported “no change,” compared with 101 who supported making a change to start times.
He said those numbers are significant because they represent “the people who spend the most time with our kids.”
Sports and homework
McEvoy also voiced concern about how later start times would impact student athletes. A recent report from Dane Street, the high school’s athletic director, suggested the move would quadruple the number of school hours missed due to away games.
“The Greenwich teams are showing up late — they’re showing up to their events and having to go right on the field without having a chance to warm up because they don’t have time for that,” McEvoy said, pointing to a study of the impact later start times had on Greenwich Public Schools. “Greenwich is closer to the schools they play, so how’s that gonna play?”
“We have all back roads to get to Trumbull,” he added “Greenwich just gets on 95.”
McEvoy also argued that adjusting the amount of homework kids are given, or time spent in front of a computer or phone screen before bed, would be a cheaper and easier solution.
Those changes “arguably will have the most impact on our kids,” he said. “If the school start times [supporters] were actually undertaking a serious effort, they would attack the other possible problems today.”
Start times advocates
Asked about the opposition to later start times, Gigi Christel and Colleen Broderick of the Start School Later Ridgefield chapter said they were still for the project.
“Hundreds of districts in the U.S. have already changed start times successfully. And yes, there may be growing pains. With their vote to implement new start times in the 2019-20 year, the Ridgefield BOE affirms our district supports the health of our students, which is the most important step,” the mothers said in a joint statement.
Asked about the possible impact on sports, they argued that other districts “have shared reports of fewer athletic injuries, improved athletic performance, and more wins/championships with healthy start times.
“Once the board finalizes the bell schedule this spring, and the Athletic Director creates the new practice times/field space schedule, the district committee will work with the local youth sports clubs to adjust schedules for younger kids to meet their scheduling needs,” Christel and Broderick added.
Jonathan Costa is the executive director of EdAdvance, the company hired to conduct the fall survey. He told The Press this week that out of all the options presented to the community, the option for “no change” to the district start times was the only option that was supported “consistent across all three groups” — parents, students and faculty.
McEvoy pointed out the same trends when he looked at the raw survey data.
The board is currently weighing two options. The first would keep the current four-tier bus system, and would save taxpayers $180,000. The other option would reduce the busing system to three tiers and would cost $360,000. The cost-saving option would send elementary students to school at 7:30 a.m. and return them home before 3 in the afternoon — a plan that elementary parents said would place an unfair burden on them to get home to pick up their children.
“If we’re going to spend a dollar on this, I want a referendum. I want everyone to vote on this, because this is really important,” McEvoy said. “This impacts every family involved, and not just the ones with kids, because there’s taxes involved. So if it’s a dollar, I want the town to come out and vote for it. I don’t think it’s gonna go the way they want it to go.”
Miller said the school board was not required to put a change through a town vote, even if money is spent on the project.
“There is not a requirement that changes to school times go to town referendum,” he said.